white woman smiling
Lindsey Cox
white woman smiling
Lindsey Cox

Problem Solved:  In this column, Times of E reporter Skyler Rossi asks entrepreneurship leaders and experts how to solve common and significant problems founders tend to run into. Do you have an innovative solution to a barrier that many entrepreneurs face? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Reach out, srossi@timesofe.com

Times of E reporter Skyler Rossi asked Lindsey Cox, the CEO at Chattanooga, Tenn.-based The Company Lab what mistake she often sees entrepreneurs at the accelerator make. Many aren’t reaching out to their customers, she said. Without talking to customers, your business likely will not survive. 

We all can have a tendency to get heads down or be very focused on a specific idea or ‘vision’ we have that we think is great, without really coming up for air or having holes poked in it, so it’s only natural that an entrepreneur encounters this,” Cox writes in an emailed statement. “Customers are the lifeblood of your business. You HAVE to know what they think or how they are interpreting your product or service.”

The solution is a simple one, she says: be sure to do the work and reach out to your customer. Customers should be at the forefront of each business decision, she writes, during every stage of development. From the first idea for a business to expanding or pivoting a growing startup. 

All entrepreneurs face this problem at some point,” she writes. “We see it most commonly at the beginning – someone who has a great idea but hasn’t gotten the necessary feedback from potential customers to see if it’s just a great idea, or an actual business. But even businesses that are in a growth stage need to keep in mind that they should constantly be gathering feedback from their customers and making adjustments.”

Entrepreneurs can get more creative than emails or phone calls. Other ways to engage include:

  • Creating polls or asking questions on Instagram or other social media
  • Reading and responding to customer reviews 
  • Sending out a survey to recent purchasers

Gathering feedback takes time, but it’s essential, Cox writes. There’s no shortcut. But writing out a survey to send to a large number of customers can replace the time it takes to construct a personalized note or leave a specific message.

Even a basic email update template will be beneficial, Cox writes. “Find a good template that flows well for you on updates and send them at minimum monthly,” she writes. “Tell your customers, folks who have expressed interest, investor leads, really anyone who will listen to you what you’ve been up to.” 

End your notes with an ask, she suggests. “You never know who can offer you support.”

It’s also important to make sure the feedback you’re getting represents true customers. “Someone can love your idea but that doesn’t mean they’re the customer,” she writes. “They can love it and still not want to buy.”

CO.LAB supports startups from launch to scale in the Chattanooga area. Before becoming its CEO earlier this year, Cox worked in the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the U.S. Economic Development Administration and Nashville-based Launch Tennessee.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.