You are your best client (or how to evaluate a startup you think you want to join)

I was watching AppSumo chief Noah Kagan giving a talk about how to give your customers Lovegasms. You can watch it here:

One piece of advice he gave is ‘You are your best customer.’

Sure, it’s part of the lean customer development process to go out, find and speak to people who have real problems, but we also know that it’s great to build something that scratches your own itch, and with that be you own customer. It short circuits the whole process of having to find and validate your customers.

It’s also a good metric for evaluating a startup you think you might want to join.

If the CEO doesn’t represent the target customer, if he or she is not even in the same world as the target customer, you and everyone else there are going to have a bad time. Even if the company is some new consumer play, where the behaviors involved in the product are not exactly already widespread, I’d still want to see the CEO leading the charge by example and use of the product.

The single and most important function of a startup CEO is to have the clear, universal vision about why everyone is there and how they are going to change their customer’s worlds, and to clear the path for everyone else in the company to follow them. And it has to be authentic. Which means they have to be the customer.

Jason Fried at 37Signals did it with Basecamp. Tom Preston-Werner did it at Github with Github. Drew Houston did it at Dropbox with Dropbox. The list goes on.

So next time you’re looking at some new hot startup that you think you’d like to join, check out the CEO. Do they meet the above criteria? Are they authentic?

Don’t follow false gods into battle.