• Causal Engines

What Does Customer Obsession Mean in Product-led SaaS?

Jeff Bezos has reiterated a common idea across his career - being competitor-obsessed versus customer-obsessed. The former, he says, is a common way to stagnate in the market and avoid innovation in your space while focusing on the short term, while the latter allows one to look far, understand your user, and constantly invent novel products and services that actually excite them.

“If you have a customer-centric culture, that cures a lot of ills. Let’s say you’re the leader in a particular arena, if you’re competitor-focused and you’re already the leader, then where does your energy come from? Whereas, if you’re customer focused, and you’re already the leader, customers are never satisfied. If you’re customer-focused, you’re always waking up wondering, how can we make that customer say, wow?”

- Jeff Bezos

This philosophy makes a lot of intuitive sense - a lot of great tech companies, especially Amazon, are able to consistently innovate by focusing on their users. The experience of painless, two-day Prime shipping is a decades long result of Amazon listening to what customers wanted - an easy, simple way to buy things online. That being said, being able to be customer-obsessed, and not just respond to your customers explicit needs is a little more difficult.

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.”

- Henry Ford

Focus on what customers are bound to love, but not something they will immediately tell you. Your job as an innovator or entrepreneur is to create value in ways others couldn’t realize, and that means products more imaginative than faster horses. Think of when Amazon Elastic Cloud compute was launched in 2006 (which would become AWS), the term "infrastructure as a service" hadn't even been coined yet.

In the same way that Isaac Newton discovered the three laws of motion through observation of movement, or Darwin studied wildlife in the Galapagos to discover evolution, or Copernicus discovered a helio-centric solar system through careful investigation of the heavens, you need to become a scholar of your customer, someone who can eschew dogmatic thinking and reconstruct their experiences through first principles. When Newton saw an apple fall from a tree, he reasoned out the underlying forces that must be exerted on that apple - when you read customer stories and their experiences, you must find the underlying pain points that will ultimately become the basis for your business.

Finding these pain points, these hidden problems that have not yet been solved, opens up an entirely new niche for your business to thrive in, one where you can plant your flag and add value in a truly original (and profitable) way.

We would like to thank Todd Bishop at GeekWire and Ron Miller at TechCrunch for their inspiration.

This article was a collaboration between Archit Bhise and Alex Li.