The good news about Rafe Needleman’s column today for the Rafe’s Radar department of CNET News is that it presents a brief and cogent account of why every new technology business needs to remember that the customer is always more important than the product. The bad news is that this argument was delivered under the headline “Startup Secret No. 3.” The connotation is that this is some arcane insight of great value to every would-be entrepreneur but not readily available. The fact that this precept is not common knowledge (let alone the highest priority) among those obsessed with “innovation Kool-Aid” as the only remedy for our economic crisis goes a long way to explaining why that Kool-Aid is as toxic as it is.
The fact is that our current dire economic straits have a lot to do with the reckless actions of those who never bothered to see customers as anything but “emergent phenomena,” not necessarily directly related to all the data points casually gathered and manipulated on spreadsheets. Put in the bluntest of terms, you can never have a business without customers; if you ignore them, then they will ignore you, even if it is later, rather than sooner. This applies as much to those who have been recklessly innovative with financial products as to those obsessed with promoting the next “killer app” (a metaphor more applicable, so to speak, than most would like to suppose) or the toy to displace the iPad. Needleman has had a long-standing reputation as a voice of common sense for CNET. Today’s piece reminded me of just how short the supply of that common sense is!