How To Identify and Meet Your Customer Needs - The Business Growth Podcast
During my recent appearance on the Allan Draper Podcast, we delved into a topic that's crucial for any entrepreneur or manager to understand: how different personalities can affect performance in the workplace. We discussed the importance of understanding team members' personalities and aligning them with the company's strategy and software architecture.
One key takeaway from our conversation was the importance of gaining fresh perspectives before making important decisions, such as when hiring consultants. Entrepreneurs who are too close to their businesses may not see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Bringing in an outside perspective can help decision-makers gain valuable insight into their companies and make better-informed choices.
We also talked about how entrepreneurs can sometimes become too attached to their own solutions and lose sight of the most important factor: the customer's problem. By focusing on building products that answer questions such as "Who is the market?", "What is the problem?", and "How will we know if we solve it?", entrepreneurs can ensure that they're truly meeting their customers' needs.
But understanding customers' needs isn't a one-time job. Markets change, and customer needs change along with them. That's why it's important to constantly monitor and measure changes that need to be made in response to shifts in the market or the customer base. By staying tuned in to customers' needs and constantly adjusting to meet them, entrepreneurs can ensure the long-term success of their businesses.
Allan Draper: Hey, everyone. Welcome to The Business Growth Pod. I'm your host,
Allan Draper. Happy to be here today. Excited for our guest. Before we get to him,
make sure that you hit the subscribe button on whatever platform, or follow,
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Also, let me know how I'm doing. You can leave me a review or you can also send
me a message. Go to my website, allandraper.com. Let me know what type of
guests will be helpful for you in starting your businesses. What type of questions you
have, hurdles that you're running into as entrepreneurs getting started.
Today I'm excited to welcome David Subar. David is the founder and managing
partner of Interna. He works with technology companies to improve their product
management and engineering to be more effective. He's worked with really large
corporations, including the Walt Disney Company. We're excited to have him and
we're excited to learn from him. Welcome to the show, David.
David Subar: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Allan: Tell me a little bit about your background. I want to hear about your history,
whatever you think is relative to our entrepreneur listener in terms of how you
became an entrepreneur, your experience with Interna. Take me whatever direction
you think is most appropriate there.
David: I started my career doing research and development in artificial intelligence
and machine learning, working in a military-owned Think Tank, but what we
produced was papers. We didn't build stuff. To the extent that someone might hear
one of the papers or read one of the papers and it might affect what they built later,
we might have an effect on the world or not. I found that to be frustrating. It's
frustrating to do a bunch of work and then not have it live out in the world.
I wasn't a scientist. I wasn't built to be a scientist. From there, I became an engineer,
a software developer at technology companies, and went higher and higher up the
management chain, eventually becoming CTO of companies, Chief Technology
Officer. Then running product too. The advantage of running product and
technologies, you got to envision the product and lead the teams that helped figure
out the marketplace and helped figure out what was on the roadmap and built the
thing and got it released and then see how the market reacted to it and do it again
and again. That was the opposite of doing research and development. That was
really driving, building technology products and change markets.
Did that for quite a long time. Then about nine years ago started Interna, which is
helping other companies through that same journey. How do you have teams that
can envision the product, write the product roadmap, understand the strategy? How
do you have teams that have engineers that build the software, that builds the
product? How do you get to market? How do you do that quickly so you use capital
effectively and learn from the market, and then be able to iterate? How do you get to
product market a bit faster? Interna helps other companies do that.
Allan: I'm almost done with this book, author is Patrick Lencioni, and it's The 6
Geniuses or something like that. In the book he's basically talking about how our
different personalities affect our performance at work. The idea behind it is there's six
different categories that people can be really good at. For example, visionary-- I'm
trying to remember all the terms. The person that sees the mission through, the
person that runs an inventor.
I think it's interesting because you talked about how early in your career, at some
point in your career, you didn't feel like you had the personality of a "scientist" which I
think would fall into the inventor genius, and it made you want to change your career
As you're helping these companies with their products, with development,
implementation and helping them through these different stages, do you take into
consideration specific team members? Are you advising them to that granular level
or are you just a larger scope, you come in and just move larger pieces around with
David: It's both. You have to do both. You have to understand what the strategy is,
what the company's trying to get accomplished, who the customers are, who the
competitors are. You've got to understand who are the people in the organization,
who are they, what do they do? You have to understand what are the processes they
work with. Then from the software side you have to understand the architecture,
what are they building? All of those either create leverage or impede building a
successful product, building a successful company.
One of the things that we do, we have four services we do. One is we'll do a deep
dive into product managing engineering and come back and say, here's the things
that you need your product managing engineering team to do well. Here's how
they're performing on each of them. Maybe call it red, yellow, green. Here's why
they're red, yellow, or green, and here's what you should do. That could be your
recruiting process is broken, or your org design is wrong.
Either of those might mean you have the wrong people in the wrong seats, or you
have the right people in the wrong seats. The way product managing engineering
talk to each other is wrong. What they're focused on is wrong. How they align with
sales and the CEO is wrong. Or they may be right. You have to understand all of
those to say, is the team likely to build a successful product and how would you
Allan: That's an...
David: Go ahead.
Allan: That's interesting that you have that type of perspective. That seems like it
would be very valuable because as entrepreneurs and business owners, it's really
common for us to-- I say that my greatest successes and my largest failures have
been with people. Getting the right people on the bus, getting the right people in the
right seats, and a lot of times it requires this outsider, this consultant or this person
that isn't in the day-to-day and can see things differently.
With my kids, I have 10 and 8-year-old boys and a 4-year-old daughter, and we'll go
see family that we hadn't seen in a couple of months, and they'll say, "Oh, your son's
so tall." I don't see it because I see him every day.
Tell me a little bit about what entrepreneurs can do to keep a fresh perspective. How
can they, outside of obviously retaining your services, which sounds like it's very
valuable and would give them a great leg up, but before they get to you, what are
some things that they can do to view their businesses, the situations, their processes
with new eyes so that they can put some of their knowledge and experience into it
before you come on board to offer that perspective?
David: It is hard. When you're talking about the philosopher Santayana said, I don't
know who discovered water, but it probably wasn't a fish.
Allan: Exactly. I like that. I like that.
David: Here's how I mean, obviously product managing, engineering that's what we
do. Obviously you could talk to us. Glad to have that conversation. As a CEO, as a
founder, do you have a peer group of founders and CEOs who you can come and
say, "I'm having this problem, what do you think?" There's groups that do this, it's not
something we do, bring CEOs and founders together so they can have those
conversations. That won't let you see inside the company, but it'll let you get
perspective on some of your decisions.
It also depends on the relationship with the executives that work for the CEO. What
are those like? I know someone who's CEO of a major retail chain and he has an
executive that he very much trusts and is very open with. That person gives him
perspective, but that's also a little bit fraught because the other executives may know
about that relationship. It's hard to have outside perspective when you're inside. It's
very, very hard.
Bill Gates used to do these week long discovery journeys where he would just leave
Microsoft and go a week without anybody else and just read and think. That's
another option, but it's just hard to have outside perspective when you are the
ultimate insider and founder or the CEO.
Allan: That's an interesting comment about Bill Gates because the way that he gets
that perspective on some level is he has to remove himself from it. The analogy
would be if I didn't see my son for a week. Then okay, I can see some of the
differences. I think it's so important for us to view our businesses with fresh eyes.
I think your services, other business consultants or coaches I think that's one of the
best values that they can bring to the table is, hey, look at this area. Maybe there's
some room for improvement there or maybe you have these ideas in your head
about what your customers think about your product but they're not actually what
your customers think about your product. I think that's such a great value add.
What are some things, and I'm talking mostly about more early stage, smaller
organizations or startups, what are some things that you see them really struggle
with in seeing about their business or their people? What is something that's more
common in the earlier stages, some of those mistakes that are more commonly
made that you're able to go into a business and say oh, well this is a staple mistake
that early entrepreneurs make? Anything come to mind?
David: Yes. There's a few things. One is, people fall in love with their solutions as
opposed to falling in love with the problem they're solving. It's not like I'm going to
build a dog house and paint a blue and no one's seen a blue doghouse before and
so everyone's going to buy a blue dog house. It's, what's the problem you're solving?
Who do you solve it for?
It's falling in love with the problem and falling in love with the customer. Maybe it
should be aqua, maybe it should be light blue. Who knows. It's not about the blue
doghouse. It's about, I am here to serve this kind of customer and we're going to
iterate it on that problem quickly until we figure it out. That's problem A.
Problem B is, it's the flavor of the day problem. Oh, it's a blue dog house. No, maybe
it's red, maybe it's orange, maybe it's green. You have to come with a thesis of
here's who we serve, here's the problem we have, here's how we're going to end up
do it and here are the steps we're going to take. We're not going to just arbitrarily
pivot every day. We're going to be thoughtful about it and we're going to measure it.
We often see product management, engineering groups that are flailing from idea A
to idea B to idea C without a reason.
Then the last thing is the thing that you said before, I say it slightly differently is 90%
of your problems are solved by hire well, retain well, and fire well. You've got to do all
three of these. Fire well, by the way, is the hardest of the three. People make
mistakes on all of those, all three.
Allan: That's incredible feedback. I love this idea of not falling in love with the
solution. I think you're right. I think most entrepreneurs, we start off on this path of
we're open-minded to some extent. I think some of it comes from this idea that as
businesses, one of the first questions we get asked, whether it's from a potential
partner, a customer or a potential investor, whatever it is, our spouses, whatever, is
well, what problem do you solve? What do you offer the world that isn't currently
being offered? It's a great question.
You're saying there's not necessarily something inherently wrong with that question
but you can, an entrepreneur can get too hung up on the solution and lose the forest
for the trees type of thing. We're not focused on the customer, the customer changes
over time and if we're so focused on hammering this peg into this hole, whatever it is,
it's like hey, what are we doing this for? I think that's that's a really great idea. What
do entrepreneurs do about it? What's a practice that they can employ to make sure
that their focus is right?
Then the second thing you said was I think equally important. On one hand, how do
we make sure our focus is correct? Then on the other, how do we make sure we're
not changing it all the time? Because as entrepreneurs we are terrible at that. It's like
we have the squirrel syndrome where it's like wait, oh, that's a good idea. Oh, maybe
we should do that. How do entrepreneurs address those issues?
David: I think it's fundamentally starting by saying here's who we believe the market
is, here's who the believe the people are and here's the problem. Every product that
you build should address those questions. Here's the formula that we use. By
building this product for this customer we believe they'll get this benefit and we'll
know it when we see this metric move.
If we say, there's customers out there that have problem X, great. We're going to put
things in the roadmap that benefit the customer and here's how we think it's going to
benefit them. Not let's try to paint it blue because maybe blue's more attractive than
red, but here's the problem to have. Here's how it's solved. Here's how we will know
if we're solving it or not.
You need to have a clear statement about that for everything you put on the product
roadmap. Clay Christensen had this thing, he had this concept of jobs to be done
and Clay Christensen, if you've never read any of his books, he's brilliant. He's got a
few books, definitely worth reading all of them.
Allan: Is that The Inventor's Dilemma? No.
David: Yes. The Innovator's Dilemma was one of them.
Allan: Innovator's Dilemma. Yes.
David: Yes, exactly right. They went to McDonald's. They were working with
McDonald's. He was a professor in Harvard's Business School. They went to
McDonald's and they were helping McDonald's and people were buying vanilla
shakes at nine in the morning. That seems curious. Vanilla shakes' a delicious thing.
Not so good for you but delicious. Why would you have one at nine in the morning?
McDonald's couldn't figure it out.
It turns out that vanilla shake at nine in the morning solves a job. As people were on
their commute they were hungry and they didn't have time to have breakfast and
they didn't want something that spilled on them in the car on their way to work.
Understanding that now you can design other food that might work for them, you can
broaden their menu if you understand what they were trying to do. It's always about
the customer. It's always about the problem they have. I feel like I'm just quoting a
bunch of people but Draper said, "The job of a company is to create customers.
Revenue is a side effect of that."
Allan: Yes. That's such a great perspective for entrepreneurs to have. How do they
monitor it? Because one of the core components of a business is that it evolves, and
if it doesn't evolve it dies. It needs to evolve because economies change, people
change, technology changes. How does an entrepreneur monitor or measure or
become aware of, somehow, changes that need to be made because their customer
base or some other facet of their market is changing?
David: Yes. You're right, markets and customers change all the time. Actually, by
entering a market and creating a solution you are changing the market and so you
have to go back at first principles and understand the customer and understand their
needs very frequently. You don't do it every day. I would suggest once a quarter to
go and try to understand where you are, what the customers are, what's changed,
what the competitors are. SWOT analyses are one way to do it. There's worthy
There's other techniques to understand what the customers are. Then you ask
yourself, "Do we or do we not want to change?" Because maybe there's changes
that aren't important. Maybe there's market segments that you're not interested in,
but you have to go and understand, it's sometimes a place where having a third
party's helpful, but not always necessary, to help you understand.
Also just monitoring the metrics of the business. The metrics may be financial
metrics. They might be uses metrics. Changes that are up or down or consistent are
both interesting. Oh, we're selling a lot more of this than we did before. That's
interesting. What happened? Did we do something that was successful? Did we do
something by accident? Did the market change? Or things are going down, gee,
what happened? There's a whole process called retrospective where you can
understand those processes. One of the things actually, when we analyze, one of
the things that we look at is looking at trend lines and what happens to be thoughtful
I mentioned the deep dive we do. Oftentimes companies after they do the deep dive
will say to us, can you help us get to the next step? We'll coach the CTO or chief
product officer, or we'll work as interim CTO and get the groups to the next step to
get them there, but that also often is a process of, how would you put that process of
periodically checking in and seeing how you're doing as part of the process?
Every time you do a product release, after the release you need to say, did this
product do for the market what we expected to do? If a product's been on market for
a long time and hasn't had significant changes, you need to regularly go back and
say, how's the product line doing in general? Probably you're going to trade shows,
you're reading a bunch of stuff online or whatever, you should be attuned to what's
going on. You should be talking to customers. You should once get empathy with the
customer and empathy with the problem.
Allan: Have you run into a scenario where you get hired and contracted, and you go
in and you find that one of the issues is the leadership of the business not being
willing to adapt to change? If that has happened before or if not, what do you
recommend? A lot of times entrepreneurs and business owners, especially when
we've been around a while, we feel like we have all the answers.
I was just having a conversation a couple of hours ago with one of my partners and
this idea of effectuating change just didn't resonate with him, even though it's very
clear that we need to do something differently. How do you get an entrepreneur to,
whether they agree with your idea or not, just open up their mind to the possibility of
David: First you have to identify if the entrepreneur's right or for me if I'm right. If I
think that they're headed over a cliff, I've got to identify that. I find the best way is by
asking questions. Telling an entrepreneur that the world's going to come to an end,
sometimes is successful, but it's often not, but say-- well, actually let's take Google
and generative AI. Stuff they're doing with ChatGPT that's going on, that's changing
the way people seek information.
Now, Google's very aware of this and Google's very aware that their market has just
changed, but if they weren't, I would walk up to their CEO, if they were to be my
client, and I would say, do you think ChatGPT is a useful information source? Or, do
you think customers perceive it as a useful information source? Then invariably the
CEO would say, let's just say the CEO said yes. Do you think people think about
Google search as a useful information source? Invariably they'd say yes.
How do you think ChatGPT as an information source will change how customers
come to Google? Exploring by a series of questions what it is. If the CEO says, no,
ChatGPT is not a useful information source, or people don't perceive it as useful
information source. Oh, that's interesting. It seems to be getting a lot of press. Why
do you think that or do you think it might change?
Now, it could be the CEO I'm talking to has information I don't have. That's
interesting. Now I've learned something, and I'm going to back off. What I have is
broad knowledge, not deep knowledge. I don't know about a particular CEO's
market, but I've seen a lot of companies over nine years of doing this. So I can ask
questions that I can pattern and match, and I can ask questions of other patterns that
I've seen, and together we can discover if they need to be open to more things or
Allan: I love that. I think it's such an important part of the entrepreneurial journey is
to ask questions, to have an open mind. A lot of times, entrepreneurs, they have
deeply founded beliefs about something, but it's not in data. It's, that's the way things
have always been, and that's the way things are always going to be. I think one of
the greatest attributes of successful entrepreneurs is the ability to question and say,
okay, this is what I think it is, but why do I think that? What are the other
alternatives? It's not something that we need to be doing on a non-stop basis,
otherwise we wouldn't accomplish anything. We'd just be questioning things all the
The flip side of that is the entrepreneur has to say, okay, with the information that I
have, and the advice that I've received, and the research that I've conducted, this is
the best course of action for our business. We are going to follow this course until we
receive contrary information, whatever the case is. That's such an important part of
Well, David, this has been fantastic. It's clear that you would be an asset to any
business. Where can people-- where can they go to learn more about what you guys
are doing in Interna, and how you can help them?
David: Our website is www.interna.com. Interna is the word internal without the L. IN-T-E-R-N-A.com. You can hit me up at LinkedIn, so David Sobar. My last name is
like Subaru without the U. S-U-B-A-R. If someone just has questions they want ask,
they don't have to engage our services.Hey, I just need to spend a few minutes on
the phone with someone, Just hit me up. You can find me on the website, you can
find me on LinkedIn. I'm D. Subar almost everywhere on the internet. D like David,
and Subar like my last name. Glad just to be helpful.
Allan: All right. Well, thank you so much for your time, David, and we wish you
nothing but the best.
David: Thank you.
Speaker 3: If you have enjoyed today's podcast, please leave us a rating. For daily
inspiration and business tips, follow Allan on Instagram. Until next time, remember,
we build the future one entrepreneur at a time.