Saturday, April 27, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Weeks 31 and 32

April 7th to 20th. These were the worst two weeks I have had since I moved here. I've had worse weeks in the past, but it's frustrating when the issue or issues seem preventable from my perspective.

We have essentially one real paying customer. We have two more strong leads, where they are beginning to build their product around our product, but they are years away from production. We have a couple huge leads too, from established players in the industry who might like us to develop a product from scratch, but until the contract is signed and some money is in the bank, they aren't really real. A few months ago, we made a change to the geometry of our product, making it larger. This really matters to the customer. Unfortunately no one communicated this change to the customer, despite the fact that they are the ones that requested the feature that we had to enlarge the product to achieve. In other words, they asked for it, we made it happen (which was and still is a difficult technical problem), but we made the geometry somewhat larger than originally agreed to, because we couldn't get it to work with a smaller geometry.

Back at my old corporate job, as soon as there is a problem, you sort it out at your desk for perhaps few hours, confirm it is a problem, and then let all the stakeholders know as soon as possible. I used to have near daily communication with Germany in one job and South Korea in another because of the challenges we were encountering throughout development. I expected to have a similar role here, yet I have not interacted with the customer at all. Which I thought was totally fine because others were handling it, but then they fail to notify the customer of a change like this, for months, and I'm embarrassed. What amateurs! Instead of being a fast moving startup, in this particular area we're slower than a 180 year old company!

The customer is always right. That's not strictly true, but I think it's the best starting point. If you spend all of your effort showing the customer they are wrong, eventually they'll probably leave for someone else, who they FEEL solves their problem better. Every business is a mix of quality, service, and price to their customers. If you ignore service you had better have excellent quality and a bargain price.

I work with a lot of smart people, who are younger than me. I don't like the word smart because it implies there is a dumb, and I think everyone has some ability to contribute, and talents that others do not have. So we'll say book smart people who went to Harvard and MIT and worked at prestigious companies. They don't always have the most humility. I would have never thought back in 2013 through 2016 when I worked a few weekends a summer at a winery just how much I would learn from that job! It was generally very low stress because I didn't need the paycheck and it was something to do that made money, and my coworkers were great. However, a few times we would have a customer who just ruined everyone's day. The wine is terrible, he wants a different bottle. The pizza is terrible, remake it. Why haven't you been back to fill up our water glasses? The sun changed and we want to move seats. To top it all off, no tip when he pays.

What I learned in that little part time service job is that with almost every customer interaction there is the ability to diffuse a tense situation and have a positive outcome. People get upset in restaurants all the time, and a free bottle of wine, or an extra pitcher of water, or some free breadsticks, or better yet checking on their table every three minutes instead of every six minutes, goes such a long way toward giving them a positive experience. It's the same in business to business customer service. You can't make everyone happy, and sometimes you really need to ditch the worst customers because they aren't worth it, but the majority of time you can make the situation better. Unfortunately I don't think many of my coworkers have ever had those sort of fast paced customer service jobs where you have 80 customer interactions in a four hour shift. You learn very fast with that kind of volume. In the corporate world customer interactions happen one or two emails per day or maybe two meetings per week. It takes forever to learn the same lessons, and the stakes are much higher than missing an eight dollar tip.

The result of all of this is that I'm traveling to Atlanta next week with four of my coworkers to have a day of meetings at the customer's location and reset the relationship. We need them. We might not always need them, but at this point we do.

In other news, I'm walking much much better! The knee high inflatable boot came off April 11th, and I switched to an ankle brace, which allows about 15 degrees of flex versus the boot allowing maybe five degrees. My step count has climbed from about 2000 steps per day to averaging about 8000.

My parents, sister, and her fiancé, came for Easter! We had a great time! It was great to get to know my sister's fiancé a little better. I picked out a new suit for their wedding, which I am a groomsman. Getting a suit was pushed on me, although I have wanted to get a nice tailored suit for years and I guess this is my chance. It's going to be a rather bold blue, so I'm a bit nervous that it won't be appropriate for situations where I want to blend in a little. My sister's wedding is probably going to cost me around $2000 in total, and I'm not even planning to get her a present. I'm probably going to elope if I ever get married...

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