Today, I'm going to visit the Microsoft Accelerator  at 320 Westlake Avenue in Seattle. Incidentally, the Azure Accelerator is accepting applications for ten slots to be given to developers who want to build a company, an app, or a service on the Azure platform. Microsoft is giving away three months of Azure hosting to help them, and partner TechStars is giving $20,000 to each developer. You have to pay for your own travel and hosting, but hey, $20,000 to build an app in the cloud? Look into it.
But back to Seattle, entrepreneurs, and coffee. Seattle does coffee.
I've been thinking about how entrepreneurs put things into the market. Everyone talks about "keep shipping." I keep hearing this and seeing this written on walls and on bathroom stall doors.
But, do entrepreneurs ship things, or serve them? "Serve" connotes an idea of giving customers exactly what they want. "Ship" connotes throwing something out the warehouse door. I thnk they might have used it to deliver ideas of bulk and traction and heavy volume. But products "shipped" on the web need a certain individuality to them. They need a customer experience that feels and looks more intimate. So, isn't it actually serving the customer?
I don't make it to Seattle often, but when I do, I like to go to the Starbucks and enjoy a decaf latte, skim. I come to Startbucks because it got started here, and it makes me feel like I am making a pilgrimage to visit a great idea: coffee served quickly--though a little burnt tasting--exactly like the customer wants it. No more drip coffee from a filter bag that looks the same for everyone. No more communist coffee!
Coffee places like this do it right. They know what people want. They want coffee. They are prepared to serve that coffee by having on hand baristas who really dig making coffee. These baristas know that people like coffee the way they like it. There is a connection between the barista (a listening agent) and the customer (a demand agent). The baristas are prepared. Baristas serve two functions in this equation.
Baristas make the coffee the way the customer likes the coffee.
But before they do that, they listen to what they customer wants. They serve the very important function of listening.
I'm going to this accelerator to see how startups listen. What are they doing in the industry they occupy? How do they listen to the market needs and adapt to those needs? This is a very important function. Is it hard to do? I don't think it's hard to do.
It takes practice.
The practice of listening is a lot like the practice of delivering great coffee. Done countless times, with failures and do-overs, you get to a point where you kind of just get it. I think that accelerators help entrepreneurs get this practice in. We surround them with really good practitioners and mentors. Those mentors are hands-on, when they need to be. We give them access to technology to help them reach out to the customer and test their theories and develop the market they want.
Everyone talks about "keep shipping" as a mantra for product delivery to customer needs.
It might be more accurate to phrase it as "keep serving." Serve up what the customer needs.
Listen to what baristas say, "I have that grande decaf mocha for you, when you're ready."
"Tall skim cappucinno on the bar, just for you."
A little extra touch. On the web, this is so meta. You can talk about the customer that you serve the product to, and in talking with the customer you learn about the customer. You make the product fit her needs. It begins to look a little like the customer. It's the customer's better half.
If you've ever really needed a coffee, real bad, then you know how nicely that coffee fits in your hand. It's the extension of your self. It's what you need.
--Author Douglas Crets is a developer evangelist and editorial lead at the Microsoft BizSpark program.
[Image: Flickr user Sippanont Samchai ]