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'Lisa' after her short test ride of the A2B Ferber electric bicycle.
'Lisa' after her short test ride of the A2B Ferber electric bicycle.

Startup Lesson One: Listen to the Customer

Today I gave a couple more people a chance to ride a modern electric bicycle and I am pleased to report that their reactions are exactly what I am hoping for: surprise, delight and an interest in possibly buying one.

You very quickly learn when you start reading about startups and listening to entrepreneurs, both the successful and the less so, how vitally important it is to listen to the customer, whoever that might be. You do that, they stress, not behind a desk studying data, but face-to-face. "Get out of the office," they exhort over and over again.

So today, I got out of the office.

Wednesdays here in Omaha is One Million Cups day. Created by the Kaufman Foundation in Kansas City, Omaha is one of some 50 or so U.S. cities that have formed these entrepreneurial get togethers where each week a local startup tells their story in six minutes with 20-minutes of Q&A. Today it was the turn of Holly and Leslie from TAGG, their acronym for Together A Greater Good. You can learn more about their business model here, as well as download their app on the iTunes store.

I presented ePEDALER last winter and have become a regular fixture of the weekly gathering, taking notes, learning all I can, and most importantly, making contacts. Today, I met a couple young guys doing beacon development, a topic I've taken a keen interest in. I'll explain why in a future 'episode.'

Since A2B supplied me with a new Ferber e-bike to test, I asked the local One Million Cup organizers if it would be okay to bring it to the meeting: a sort of adult version of grade school 'show & tell'. They were okay with it, so I loaded it into the minivan and headed down to the Creighton University Campus, where the Wareham Building just on the edge of the campus serves as a startup incubator of sorts.

Before the meeting started, I talked to people about the bike and afterwards offered them rides in the parking lot. Lisa, the lady in the photo above, took me up on the offer, even though she's not ridden a bike in, well… she couldn't remember when. I asked her to ride around the lot first as a normal pedal bike, then I showed her how to turn on the electric-assist.

I nearly couldn't get her off the bike!

She was clearly enthralled by the experience. She wasn't the only one. While I didn't get anyone else from the Million Cup meet-up on the bike - they are all occupied talking shop on the second floor - I did get a passerby across the street from the home of the College World Series to go for a short spin. Here's his reaction:

Even if only two people rode the bike, two things were clearly obvious: (1) they were both surprised and delighted by the experience and (2) would consider buying one, both asking where they could buy one in Omaha.

That is, of course, exactly the reaction I am looking for. Both are in my desired customer demographic. So, on my way back to the home office, I resolved to start doing more of these impromptu field demos - at least until the weather turns nasty - and listening to rider feedback. Two demos do not a business case make, of course, but their reactions - and that of the OneMillion Cup crowd - strongly suggest that I am heading in the right direction. Put people on e-bikes and they sell themselves.

Bill Moore with A2B Ferber electric bicycle in front of Ameritrade Park, home of the NCAA College World Series

Posted By: Bill Moore [08-Oct-2014]