Working at a bootstrapped startup for six years left me with the bug of consuming as much information as I can on how they tick, which essentially comes down to reading how OTHER startups do business. Given my love of the customer, that’s generally the lens through which I read things…how do other startups view and treat their customers as a part of the overall being? This is the one hard fact: without your customers, your company is NOTHING. You could be the smartest person on the planet and surround yourself with the smartest engineers money can buy, but if no one wants to buy your product or service, then you do not have a company. Period.

A friend of mine sent me this article yesterday, on how Pandora prioritizes its features and stays on a 90 day production cycle. Ambitious, and awesome. However, one part of the article just struck me the wrong way, when it came down to the team that was in charge of feature prioritization.

At Pandora the team consisted of the executive staff. At the start, that meant the CEO, founder Tim Westergren, the VP of Business Development, and the Chief Revenue Officer would pick which features got built. Later on, the team expanded to include the CFO, the Chief Council and the VP of Human Resources.

Where is the customer voice in that group? The head of biz dev? No way. The company lawyer? Hardly. Your lawyer and your CFO can help guide on what legal and financial ramifications would play into certain features, but could they tell you what the users had asked for the in the last quarter? Where your product problems lay? If no one at the decision making table is there to represent the user, how could you ever be certain that you would make the right decisions and not one that would cause you to bleed users from quarter to quarter?

The customer is everything, and should be at the forefront of every product decision you make. If they aren’t, they are for someone else who will take those users faster than you can innovate. Talk to the people that spend all day every day talking to your customer. Or better yet, talk to your customer directly. They hold all the cards, and should be at the core of every product and business decision you make.