This simple framework has the secret to building what your customers want

How to use it and what to do if you don’t have any customers yet

Greg Dickens


Photo by Victor He on Unsplash

I don’t think there is anyone in the startup world or the wider business world who will argue with the statement that you should focus on building what your customers want.

But how many people know what that really means and how you should actually go about doing it?

With the rise of Design Thinking and Lean Startup methodologies that now dominate the thinking in startups and big corporations alike, putting users and their problems at the heart of everything you do is a generally accepted concept.

But from my experience, there are a lot of people out there who think this automatically comes from post-it notes, brainstorming, creating user personas and other things that on their own equate to nothing more than innovation theater.

So, what’s the way out of this post-it note purgatory?

I came across a great research paper recently via this blog post that spells out how you can take concrete actions towards building products centered around your customers.

Focus on the action, not the planning

First, don’t get me wrong — there are lots of great things to use from the Lean Startup and Design Thinking, but it’s easy to get carried away with their planning tools and shy away from where the action is.

That makes sense because planning (and re-planning, and re-planning again) is much easier than actually getting stuff done. And getting stuff done while involving your customers is especially hard.

That’s where this paper written by marketing professors from the University of Wisconsin comes in. They were looking at things from the perspective of a big corporation, but I think that their ideas translate well to businesses of any size, including startups and solopreneurs.

In their paper, they put forward a framework where they split the act of creating a product into two general parts:

  1. Selecting — this is deciding and planning what should be built
  2. Contributing — this is the…



Greg Dickens

Maker, recovering banker, living in Greece. Building affordable digital tools for local news and other indie publishers at