Who: Mark Gainey, 42, president, Kana Communications Inc., based in Redwood City, California.
Mistake: "Focusing too narrowly on certain features for our first release."
Reward: "Responding to customers' suggestions earned us their loyalty."
"I'm the best person here at making mistakes. That's how you learn how to build a business. At Kana, we have a credo: 'We will never fear failure.' "
"Our first product was an email-response application. In our beta test, we were so focused on solving one urgent problem that we didn't think broadly enough about other problems that customers might encounter. A month before we launched the product, some of our beta customers asked us how to initiate a message to customers -- instead of just responding to messages from customers. That's a pretty basic piece of functionality, and we hadn't included it. We knew that we couldn't release a product that was missing something so obvious. So we delayed the product launch by three months."
"Being honest about our oversight paid huge dividends. Our customers saw that we were listening to them -- and they pledged their loyalty to us. Now we have an internal customer-advocacy group whose members sit in on customer meetings. They make sure that we deliver what customers want. We're lucky that we learned our lesson early."