The first two startups I (Will) worked on were both founded on the belief that we knew the solution to a problem and that customers would see our solution, smack their palms to their foreheads, and beg us for an opportunity to pay us for it. However, it didn't work out that way, and, in fact, both companies failed.
But, by the time I was co-founding Viewlogic several years later, I saw the correlation between involving customers early in the process and the ultimate success of a startup. What I learned, in fact, was that the initial ideas we had for the company were only small kernels of the solutions that needed to be created to address the needs of the customer. There was actually no way for us to know what to do without involving the people who would use our products. It seems ridiculous to do it any other way now.
This lesson was permanently fixed in my memory when an early customer completely abandoned our product. They stopped using it and demanded their money back. We, of course, did everything to try to turn the situation around by addressing problems and offering support. Nothing worked.
After realizing that we were never going to turn the sale around, one of my co-founders basically begged the now ex-customer if we could fly across the country for a brief post-mortem meeting with them to better understand what we did wrong and how we could improve. It was brutal. The customer took us to task and didn't hold anything ...