Understanding the customer, the hard way

I joined this B2B housewares start-up at the invitation of its co-founders, as the first external hire.

​It was the internet boom, the age of and Lastminute.come – spectacular successes and failures all around, and all benefitting from mentoring by blue-chip executives and advisors.

​We were no different. But the incredible funding we were able to raise and the illustrious names around us (to some of whom I remain close and forever indebted) couldn’t change the core fact that we hadn’t fully understood our target customers. They loved the idea of us, but didn’t want to transact with us. It was all too hard, and too different from the comfort of what they were used to. They didn’t want to do things differently, to trust their sourcing to someone else. We were too early.

​To this day, I bring this lesson to every company table I join. Do we really understand who they are, what they want, whether we offer it, what they’re willing to pay, what service they expect?

​I learned other things too – how to manage large layoffs successfully, how to run a voluntary liquidation, how be a company director and to maintain my good standing and that of my peers. How important vision is, and the commitment of everyone to the same vision.

I worked directly for Susan in a 2000 dot com start up. She proved to be a smart, thoughtful and strategic leader, as well as being refreshingly direct and open. … Susan has found her niche … with her ability to see the overall picture, effectively manage stakeholders and deep dive into multiple domain areas to drive success.

Greg Smith, former eBay Europe Head of User Experience Research & Design, Mesania Head of Service Management