A few months ago, I was talking to a startup about how individual customers wanted them to do different things. They felt trapped, because, on the one hand, they were intentionally doing things that didn’t scale. On the other, they found that meeting the varied expectations of their customers meant that they were not moving towards a coherent product and that their time to do anything other than customize their product had evaporated.
This is a natural tension for early stage companies that is surprisingly hard to get away from. I think that’s partly because the way we talk about making users happy is too black and white. There is no single thing you can build that will make all users happy, and it’s rare to hit on the exact thing that makes any users happy out of the gate. Instead, founders have to run a continuous optimization of what they can build and support against what users want.
I think about this optimization as operating along three variables: cost of customization, happiness generated, and cost to support that customization. The goal is to find a level of customization that makes as many customers as possible happy while not incurring support costs – through personnel or burn – that would kill your company. This curve is always going to be slightly different, but looks something like this: