Start-up Life: The Champion Customer

Start-up Life: The Champion Customer

When starting a company it’s easy to be heads down on building your product, finding investors, and managing expectations.  One of the most important moments that get overlooked is finding the right first customers and finding what I like to call The Champion Customer. All startups have their champion customers, and wouldn’t be where they are without them. Here’s my definition of a champion customer:

The Champion Customer

  1. Understands where you are in your business life cycle.
  2. Willing to meet regularly to review product progress.
  3. Provides feedback and is willing to test updates to your product.
  4. Is willing to pay for your product or already is a paying customer.

Not a Champion Customer

  1. Expects everything to be perfect
  2. Not available regularly
  3. Willing to pay but wants to not be involved

During my career I remember being a Champion Customer for several companies when they were in their infancy or at a point where input was critical to their next steps.  When working with those companies it wasn’t just paying for their services that made a difference for them.  I was willing to make time to sit with them face-to-face, be on calls, review details, and help them make changes.  The updates and needs that I would request could be used to continue building, learning, and enhancing their product and while it was great for their business it was also great for my business. 

Being on the other side of the desk now I have realized the difference a champion customer can make. I’ll be following back in a few months with updates on our progress here at Skosay and a look into our champion customer story.  In the meantime, I’m grateful to be part of the NWA entrepreneurship community and get to learn from Founders like Mark Brandon. Here is his Champion Customer story.   

Discussion with QBox Founder and CEO Mark Brandon:

Did you have a champion customer? 

We really had two champions, one of which we are still working with, and the other is no longer a customer. 

What was the biggest value add your champion customer provided for you? 

The hokum going around the startup community about validating with customers before you build is fraught with peril, mainly because nobody will tell you that your baby is ugly.  It’s just easier not to.  There truly is no validation until somebody is pulling out their wallet to pay for what you’ve built.  Even after that, your validation is incomplete until somebody uses your product heavily in the way it was intended.  The champion customers were this for us.  We learned a lot about the shortcomings of our product when people were using it at huge scale.  They were patient with us, and in return, they got a tremendous amount of personalized professional services that would set them back a lot of money had they been working with the IBM’s and Accenture’s of the world.

Are you still working with your champion customer today? 

We are still working with one of these customers, and they still provide massive value to us.  We give them first look at new features, and they give us valuable feedback in return.  The other one went away, and it is an object lesson on the flip side of what I just said above.  As we started adding more customers, the now-ex-customer had gotten used to us providing professional services at no charge.  At that point, we were losing more in my team’s attention and time that we could not afford to carry on.  We agreed to separate amicably, but I’ll always be grateful to that customer for many things and we wish them well.

In summary, the champion customer can make a difference in not only your product life cycle but in your future prospects for clients.  Be sure to seek out that champion customer, be diligent, and be careful about going down the wrong path.  That path could easily cost you time, possibly move your product in the wrong direction, and most importantly cost you money. 

To learn more about what QBox Founder Mark Brandon is up to visit their website at