17 November 2020

Startup Flight #13: The never ending battle between product beliefs and customer needs


Hi there! My name is Charlotte and I’m Co-Founder & CEO of Equalture (an unbiased hiring tool for SMBs) and living in the most beautiful city in the world: Rotterdam. Being an entrepreneur for 4 years now and building my second company together with my twin sister, I get a lot of questions from other founders and people thinking about starting their own company.

Since I believe that every single founder experience can be helpful to other founders, I decided to translate these frequently asked questions into a blog series: Startup Flight.

In this thirteenth blog: The never ending battle between product beliefs and customer needs and how this can lead to blindness for customer needs.



My definition of product beliefs

Do you know that feeling when you get an idea, and you immediately fall in love with it? That’s what happened to me in 2017, when my twin sister (Fleur) and I came up with this idea, which we now call Equalture. 

And not just an idea. We wanted to prove the world that, by basing every single hiring decision on data instead of gut feeling, poor hiring decisions will never be made again, and unbiased hiring will become the new normal. Shaping the world of unbiased hiring – that became our vision. 

Such a strong vision, as well as the drive to challenge/change the status quo, always goes hand in hand with strong beliefs. And since we were starting a product company, in our case it became product beliefs.

For me, a product belief is a certain principle within your product that you want to hold on to in order to secure your vision.


The first mover (dis)advantage

A second dimension that made our goal a bit more challenging, was the fact that we were a first mover – a service or product that gains a competitive advantage by being the first to market with a product or service.

Yes, of course back in 2018 there were already lots of HR tech tools on the market, but still ours was different for the following reasons:

  • Funnel position. We positioned our product quite unique – namely at the very beginning of a hiring process, as a replacement for the traditional application form. Therefore we became a new job application experience. 
  • Data collection. A second bold decision that we made was throwing away old-fashioned resumes, since we don’t believe it had much predictive value. Candidates who would apply to our platform could do so by starting with LinkedIn and by building up an Equalture Profile. And if that’s not enough – we also decided to introduce neuroscientific games right during this job application experience. No boring traditional assessments, but fun, engaging games to reveal a candidate’s skill set and personality traits right away. 

So these two aspects of our product made us unique. A first mover. 


Advantage and disadvantage

Now, being a first mover sounds cool, and in many ways it actually is, but it also brings some additional challenges.


Advantage

The obvious advantage of being a first mover is that you will also become a thought leader in the market. Instead of starting an instant competitor battle, in which you need to fight on price, features, and so forth, you now have the chance to shape people’s vision on your product and where your product stands for. Your brand has the chance to become the face of this innovation, which has an endless commercial potential. 

Instead of following the rules, following the strategies and participating in the conversation, you’re setting the rules. You’re creating the strategies. And you determine the topic of conversation.


Disadvantage

The obvious disadvantage of being a first mover, however, is that you will always have to make the first move. There’s no one to look at, there are no best practices and there are no mistakes already made to learn from. And that’s challenging. 

So in a market in which you can only trust your own knowledge and intuition, your product beliefs are your safe haven, it’s basically your compass. As a first mover, you might choose the wrong path more often, but your product beliefs at least provide you with the ultimate destination, which you will reach eventually. So therefore, I truly believe that you can only become a successful first mover if you have the right product beliefs to hold on to. 


Customer needs for a first mover product

Another thing that goes hand in hand with being a first mover is the fact that your customers won’t always be aware of their needs. After all, if they would be, they would have come up with your product before you did yourself. So therefore, being a first mover also requires the ability to educate your (potential) customers. Why are you building the product you’re building. Why is this new way of working more successful? And why should they let go of their old habits? 

Basically, you are educating your customers about why your product, which is on path B, is the path to go for, while they have always been walking on path A. So you’re not just selling a product. You’re also selling a process change. 


Customer needs vs. product beliefs in that transition from path A to B

People don’t change overnight. So therefore your product also shouldn’t be a 100% change. Without letting go of your product beliefs, a first mover product should be able to facilitate the transition from path A to path B. And that’s something I sometimes tend to forget.

Let’s provide you with an example. As I mentioned, our product handles recruitment in a completely different way. This table below shows the differences, as well as why we chose for those different approaches:

As you can see, there’s quite some change required in the entire hiring process, even the process before you actually start collecting job applications, in order to work with our product. And fortunately this doesn’t require the customer much time, but it does require the mental readiness to change. 

What I learnt in 2020, especially since we now have an amazing Product Owner, Robin, who effectively confronts me with my thoughts every now and then, is that you don’t need to replace 100% of the current approach in order to hold on to your product beliefs. In fact, not providing any familiarity with the current approach in your product will likely scare off some of your customers. And I think he’s completely right here (although it took me some time to see that, but I think that’s something that most entrepreneurs will recognise themselves in). If you want customers to transition from A to B, you should also provide them with a product that guides them through this transition. 

So for 2021, we are for instance researching the possibility of building a feature that allows candidates to also upload a video pitch. And please note, for all customers who are reading this, this is not a promise – but we are definitely listening to you. Because, with your help, we always try to align our product beliefs with your needs.

PS. Are you believing in our mission and is your startup, scaleup or SME ready to shape the world of unbiased hiring together with us? You’re only one click away!


Cheers, Charlotte
Co-Founder & CEO