I really suck at finding early customers.

I meet many people who struggle with ideas for a startup – at least for one they would be ready to take a risk to explore.

Thankfully this is not a problem I have. There is no shortage of ideas nor of the capability to generate ideas. Neither do I have a huge aversion to risk – I try to fail cheaply and try to learn as fast as I can.

My biggest problem is finding customers. Not customers to buy a finished product that I have spent thousands of pounds and countless hours building – I don’t often get that far. What I struggle to find are early adopters to test the ideas on for real – meaning that they actually have the problem I am trying to solve and would be willing to pay for the solution.

Early customers may not stick with your product all the way through, but the early feedback they can give is invaluable – at least this is what I hope. Without early customers helping to validate my assumptions, my real risk aversion kicks in and I will stop working on the idea. The lack of feedback may, itself, be valuable feedback!

There may be lots of reasons why early customers are hard to find, but some reasons are more reasonable indicators of the viability of the idea than others. My main reason is fear of what I perceive selling to be, crossed with impatience.

My Definition of Selling (and marketing)

My operating definition of ‘selling’ is this:

Selling is the art of persuading someone to exchange  something they have  – that you want –  for something you have.

Interestingly, my definition of ‘marketing’ is:

Marketing is the art of persuading someone to want what you have to sell.

In my mind, selling and marketing share the same process – persuasion- and differ only by goal.

To me customer development is a form of selling. One where I’m trying to persuade someone with valuable insight into how their business works and real world needs to exchange their insight, time and money with me for the chance to have those needs met through my development of a product/service. Once I ‘sell’ them on the idea – then I can do surveys, usability testing, A/B testing blah, blah, blah. But if they don’t ‘buy’ – I got nothing!

My Name is Mike and I’m Afraid of Selling

I love people, I love talking with people and listening. I love hearing about the problems they have and I have learnt to not jump in with solutions. However, when I think that what I need to do is ‘sell’, my brain goes into lockdown. I find every possible reason not to ‘sell’. I procrastinate, dive into distractions and otherwise avoid this activity.

My perception is that selling is a black art that I am unqualified to do and this ‘inferiority’ complex haunts me. This means I constantly second guess myself in a way I don’t do when I code or when I coach. It also means I over-analyse what possible response to my approaches will be (and overwhelmingly I conclude they will be negative, hostile or both). Inevitably I never do anything.

To make matters worse, the people I want to contact are busy people. They aren’t sitting around waiting for my call. So, often their responses are delayed and this plays into my fears.

Frankly I’m stuck at this point. I think I understand where my current problem lies. Once I can get to speak with a potential early customer, I’m fine. All my skills kick in and mostly I can persuade them to try what I am offering  – if they have a glimmer of the problem I am trying to solve.

My problem – when I zoom into it, is in generating leads. Getting folk interested enough to get to speak with them. This is where the art is the blackest for me. This is where I need help.

Do I have to be good at the approach?

My gut answer is that early customers are key to building businesses – at least using a lean startup/customer development approach. So generating leads would seem a fundamental skill that every founder should have. So now, I am operating on the basis that I have to go from ‘crap’ to ‘good enough’.

When I have wanted to improve at things in the past, I have often hired someone with the skills I wanted to improve and I then paired with them doing some real work. It was slow for me and them, but the learning was incredible. It cut out a lot of the noise and the outcome was awesome.

That is what I intend to do this time. This worked for understanding SEO and learning Ruby on Rails. So I am exploring hiring someone to help with customer development who I can pair with. More on this soon – in the meantime if you know someone I should be talking to , ping me!

Do you have a fear of selling? I’d love to hear your experiences – maybe something you have learnt can help me, maybe vice versa. Either way – let’s not suffer in alone.

June 20 – Mikey's back!

The last 13 days

Q: Does a daily blog have to be done every day?
A: Not when it’s @mhsutton’s blog – obviously.

So much has happened in the last 13 days, I don’t really know where to start. I’ve been away because I’ve been a little discouraged with the progress of ServiceChat (no, I haven’t been in rehab – just nose down trying to move it forward!) – So I took a break from writing and the routine, to focus 100% of my time on completing my customer discovery experiments. It was an ineffective move, what may have been more useful might have been to talk to my @saintsal sooner and continue with my routine but with differently prioritised work.  Most things suffered in this hiatus – I ended up being able to do less pushups for example!

So here is my check in:

  • Glad that I spoke with @saintsal – who very kindly listened to my challenges and offered his honest appraisal based on what I communicated. Sal was gracious but honest – I have been coding an awful lot with real focus on business building and validation. I knew this, but it was hard to accept from myself.
  • Glad that my funding strategy is sorted. I’m taking a consulting gig in August that will help me fund the next 7 months from 6 weeks work. Ha, the joys of living a lean life.
  • Sad that whilst I’m doing the language study, the practical experience is not really happening. I feel less capable of speaking Spanish now than I did in January!
  • Glad that my intercambio is starting on Monday – an hour talking in Spanish, hopefully twice a week.
  • Sad to hear of the sudden death of James Gandolfini – who played Tony Soprano on the Sopranos. That show was a large part of my rehabilitation during my divorce.
  • Sad/mad that my collaboration with FounderSync fizzled out after one blog, it was actually none existent. A thoroughly poor set up. Chalk it up to experience, I guess.
  • Glad I got to talk with @scottcrowther about ServiceChat and he was lovely and kind enough to share more than 20 ideas for improvement and growth with me (including moving back to the midlands!)
  • Glad I feel more engaged and more present.
  • I’m grateful for saints who pop up with truth and grace.

I’m good and getting better. The future is less dark and almost entirely my own making. I’m  in.

Improve On…

Blogging consistently – this and other non-coding things are the highest priority items I have to do now. I basically need to drum up interest in what ServiceChat does. BizBuzz was part of that effort and now that I have gifted it to the public to search , I would like to see more interest in how businesses engage their customers on Twitter.


Start my ‘insights’ series on the ServiceChat blog – where I share what the data from bizbuzz is telling me (and has told me).  The first is a summary description of the types of support behaviours I have observed and I’ll try and evangelise with best groups for the topic on LinkedIn.
Reach out to Huffington post and explore how to become a huffblogger.
Reach out to my top 5 ideal customers and get a dialogue going about using ServiceChat
Blog, blog, blog.


The Trello board…



Seek beyond what you know. It is dangerous. Most things worth anything are.

May 30 – It's Been Emotional


Watching the data stream in and seeing the emotions and needs that generated it has itself been really emotional.


On one hand, frustration that so many people who use certain businesses are dissatisfied and go unheard.  On the other, I am also glad that they choose to express that need (albeit with some angry words).
I’m fully into the acquire customer funnel, a conversation with my adviser on Tuesday emboldened my strategy and helped to renew my energies.

My check-in:

  • Glad I had a great conversation with Paul, my adviser, on my strategy for researching and acquiring customers.  He checked out bizbuzz and was impressed with the concept (there may be a potential pivot there).
  • Sad the almost all my contacts are techies – I need to get more professional diversity into my network.
  • Mad at so much today : youth unemployment, apathetic businesses that squander the promise of social media, stupid politicians. I have to blog something or else I might scream and drink wine…hang on!
  • Glad that I am really into my customer acquisition funnel with good data that will inform my approach and pitching.
  • I’m grateful for data. There is so much of it, most of it noisy, but with the right intentions and nurture, beauty can be coaxed. (WTF! – I’m waxing lyrical about data – someone smack me with a wet fish)
  • I’m grateful that NVC has enabled me to see deeper into this data and react differently with it. More empathically for all concerned.

I’m  empirically in.

Improve On…

Keep to the schedule.

Make a little time for my distractions.

Self restraint. Less long hours into the early hours



My funnel includes talking to my potential customers’ customers.  Those who expressed a need (albeit it through angry words and criticism). I want to discover what they feel might have made a difference.  Did they have the conversation they deserved?  What could have happened differently for them? So, today those conversations continue.

Also I have 20 businesses on my list to find warm introductions to.  Great data to use in LinkedIn. I found five that I am already connected to and I will be sending intro requests to them.


The Trello board… 


ServiceChat is Live.


I’m delighted to announce that I have now released the first public version of ServiceChat – the startup I am building to help businesses delight their customers with improved engagement. I say public, but I actually mean beta (which is public too).

What is ServiceChat?

The older I get, the lower my tolerance for terrible customer service. I don’t have this ‘everything must work perfectly’ BS mentiality.  Life teaches us that things might be perfect some of the time, but not even nearly all the time. My experience teaches me that for those numerous times when it doesn’t it is the strength of relationships that make resolution emotionally possible. And conversation is the cornerstone of relationships. Conversations between people.  Businesses are made of people, customers are people.  For years the transaction of business has masked the need for people to keep conversing.  Great customer service begins with being willing to have the conversation, making the offer and then actually having a conversation.

ServiceChat is the first tool I am working on towards the vision of disrupting what Customer Service has become – transactional, defensive and dehumanised.  More on this vision later – but for now let me say we live in an age that Customer Service is outdated. It is time for Customer Delight, that taps into the passion and art that is at the essence of being human.

While I can’t currently help the ‘willingness’ part of great customer service.  I can encourage it by writing about and celebrating businesses that demonstrate a willingness to engage in conversation with the people who are their customers.  But I cannot make anyone be willing to do anything.

ServiceChat is an attempt to provide a means to make both the offer and to actually have the conversation – without technology getting the way.  My video explains this better:

What Next

Now begins the real work – learning how my customers want to make the offer, how they want to have the conversations and what they want to do next. It is my privilege to help them.

I will be working to create content (I have some ideas on helping great unsung businesses share their passion with the world) that will inspire, inform and celebrate customer delight.

As my early adopter customers increasingly use ServiceChat, I will be learning, tweaking, inventing, re-inventing and supporting them to have the most delightful experiences with their customers as possible.

I Need Your Help

I cannot do this alone.
If you have a great customer experience – let me know. Let us share it and inspire the world.
If you know a business that loves and delights it’s customers, treats them with respect and dignity, has conversations – introduce us.
If you have a terrible , uninspired or downright rotten customer experience – suggest they have a conversation with you on ServiceChat – I will offer them 3 months free and work with them to explore how they can improve (I am after all a coach!).
If they say ‘Yes’, I can guarantee huge improvements!
Please help me tell companies you know well, to check ServiceChat out. It is desperately important that as many people as possible know that there is a different way.

May 6 – Plan: Prepare to Board


ServiceChat Trello for May 6th


I went rogue on Friday(3rd) and Sunday (5th). There was a plan but it wasn’t visible, so I apologise to my #happytohelpers.

The codebase is looking sweet and I have gotten a huge amount done in such a short time. I think I have enough to show early customers and get feedback for the next corner.

The main goal today is get what I have in development out to my production server and in readiness for some early adopters using it by the middle of this week.

Once I get the app in place today, I will work on the explainer video (at least the first draft). I have thought long and hard about the explainer video and I could probably do away with it for the MVP, but there is a huge amount of learning it can give for the blog content ideas I have – which are ongoing important tasks anyway.

I will also continue my marketing exploration  (in my in-between time) of paid advertising on Linked (I have a voucher that expires tomorrow, I don’t want that option to expire!).