The Customer Domain Expert

Founders with many backgrounds can be successful, but there’s one archetype I most enjoy working with: the customer domain expert.

These founders have already worked in the industry the startup will target. They have informed opinions on the industry’s players and future. Moreover, they would have been the buyer or user of the product, if only it had existed.

Customer domain experts enjoy several advantages:

  1. Knowledge of the dead ends. They’ve seen other startups fail and know the root causes. They avoid wasting time on misguided features, target customers, partnerships, and vendors.
  2. Informed opinions on competitors. Anyone can read a Gartner report, but customer domain experts have tried competitors’ products, met the sales teams, seen successful and failed product roll-outs, and can separate real differentiation from marketing fluff.
  3. Access to customers. They can just ask questions of peers rather than guessing. Initial sales come from former colleagues or clients with trust.

These founders can move confidently through the uncertain seed stage. They can act in the face of ambiguous and conflicting feedback. They know what objections to take seriously. And they hire and work with the right set of people from the industry.

If you’re a customer domain expert, you’ll know it. A few things set you apart in the earliest days.

You conceived of your company by writing a detailed comparison between the product you’ll build and your competitors. Your sales funnel started with a rank-ordered list of the top twenty potential customers; you knew the inclusion criteria by heart.You personally know your first five customers – they’re peers or clients who heard you were getting started and are already eager to try your product.

As an investor, it’s a joy to work with a customer domain expert. They’re unfazed by early stumbling blocks because they know what to build, who to sell it to, and why they’ll buy. They test the hypothesis behind the business fully. And that is all an investor can ask for.