Why startup founders need to be wary of “hijacker” users

Startup founders can be too heavily influenced by users and need to prevent customers from “hijacking” their products, Y Combinator partner Michael Siebel says.

In a post on the Y Combinator blog, Siebel says that founders need to become experts in identifying these “hijackers” and resist the urge to alter their product to meet the demands of a few.

“When you’re just getting started, many startups will take every user they can get,” he writes.

“They have a strong idea of a problem and they want to attract as many users with that problem as possible. Unfortunately when you open up the barn doors you get all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. Some of them will try to hijack your products to solve a problem you didn’t intend to solve.

“You don’t have to pivot your business because a customer needs something that you don’t offer.”

Founders need to have the ability to remain focused on a core offering, rather than trying to please every single user.

“In the early days by focusing on solving one program really well, you’re betting on making a small amount of people very happy,” Siebel says.

“If you let any user that walks in the door steer the product roadmap you’re going to end up doing a shitty job at half-solving a lot of problems.”

While these “hijackers” can sometimes identify a potentially lucrative problem to solve, founders need to discuss with each other on what they want their product to offer.

“Sometimes the hijacker users are actually showing you where there’s an even more acute need, an even bigger problem,” he says.

“But in other cases they are leading you into a trap where you are solving a problem for a smaller group of users or in the worst case, just them.

“This is a consulting business and if you are doing a tech startup you don’t want to be in the business of solving one-off problems for users.

“Being good at customer service doesn’t mean serving every potential customer. You should always be courteous with people you can’t serve but you shouldn’t feel bad telling them that you’re focused on solving another problem.

“They’ll survive and you’ll be much more likely to serve your target customers better.”

You can read Siebel’s full piece over here.

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