Ignore Your First Users

Mistake #9: Living in a bubble

As I’ve already said I’m a firm believer in idea that the best way to build something is to start small — ideally with one key feature — and then rapidly iterate from that, building out the a larger site based on feedback from real users of your site. However, there’s a key trap in that approach you should beware of: your very first users are often not your main target audience, and paying too much attention to what they want can take you down completely the wrong path.

This happens all the time with Silicon Valley startups. They murder their grandmother to get featured in TechCrunch only to find out that even if they do manage to build a customer base from it, it’s made up entirely of the sort of people who read TechCrunch — i.e. not the sort of customers they actually want anyway if they’re ever going to cross the chasm. But by paying attention to what their existing customers want, they never manage to build something that normal folks want to use.

Transparency and accountability sites have their own chasm to cross too: it’s not enough to cater to the Westminster Bubble or stay inside the Beltway, or whatever your country’s equivalent is. Your first users are probably going to be those sorts of geeks, wonks, activists, etc., and they’re certainly going to be important, but you don’t want to let them be too influential as to the direction in which you steer things — assuming, that is, that your goal is to build something that’s more broadly useful to normal people!

When you do manage to get any indication of real users, though — i.e. not your Facebook / blog / twitter friends and followers, but people you’ve never heard of before who seem to have simply stumbled across your site as a potential solution to a problem they have — then pay attention more intently than you’ve ever done before, hang on their every word, pore over their clickstream, and do everything in your power to make everything you can for them easier, easier, and easier still.

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