Thursday, April 5, 2012

“Customers Really Don’t Know What They Want!”

This was the argument of the winning team in the debate organized by OCC and BEMUG. A little additional information for the uninitiated – on the 3rd of April, OCC Bangalore and BEMUG have organized a debate evening in partnership with Christ University - Institute of Management. The debate topic was "Do Customers Know What They Want?"  

The evening started with a keynote address by Sramana Mitra and continued with a brief Q&A session in which Sramana shared her insights with entrepreneurs while fielding their questions about various dilemmas that are a part of being an entrepreneur.

In her keynote address, Sramana explained why mentoring networks fail, saying that these networks primarily cater to the cream of the crop, which happen to be 1% of all entrepreneurs, and the rest are left to fend for themselves, and in a lot of instances, fail. Sramana shared with the audience that she understands the dilemmas of young entrepreneurs, having gone through that phase herself, and she wants to make sure that every entrepreneur has access to mentors. She went on to explain about her latest venture, 1M/1M, which is a virtual incubator that has a counter philosophy of taking pride in mentoring more and more companies at a time when most of the incubators and mentors of the world take pride in their high rejection rate. Sramana emphasized that 1M/1M will not reject any applicant.   

The debate started with Sramana’s opening argument that businesses which neglect due diligence in the form of market research and understanding customer needs invariably fail. She mentioned a few first hand experiences including one in which she turned around a failing business by understanding the customers’ real needs and problems and solving them.

The counter argument was opened by Shikha Yadav, who quoted Henry Ford and Steve Jobs to emphasize the point that the customers really don’t know what they want. This was followed up by a brief and effective argument by Mukund Mohan, in which he stated three reasons why an entrepreneur should not base his idea on a customer’s thinking.
  • Customers don’t know what they want, mostly because they do not have the time to think about the problem that you are solving, they are just too busy with some other immediate crisis in their business/life.
  • Most customers live in a fantasy land, as in, they do not know the difference between a technologically and logistically feasible solution and one that is well, just wishful thinking.
  • Customers generally find a rubber band/ band aid solution to their problem and move on to other things. It is up to the entrepreneur to observe the customer and his problems and come up with an innovative solution, rather than ‘asking’ the customer what they want.

After the team members on both sides presented their arguments, there was a rebuttal round in which the audience participated with their views on the topic. Clearly, Mukund Mohan was the audience favourite, as he ended up receiving most of the notes from the audience.

The winning team of the debate was chosen by the audience by a show of hands and applause.

Post the debate, the audience as well as participating teams got an opportunity to meet each other and exchange views ( and in some cases, business cards :) ) over a networking dinner.  


  1. I attended that event, and Sramana's talk sounded less like a debate and more like marketing for her 1M/1M. One could easily see her attitude. I would rather pay 5000 to TiE and get real face to face meeting with domain expert of my choice anytime I want, rather than pay Rs 50000 for a program where I may never meet the mentors in real. But it was good that she was defeated in the debate, and brought back to her senses.

  2. I wish I could cover all the other interesting inputs by the other debate team members and audience, but that would have made this post unwieldy. I shall certainly cover them soon.

    Thanks for your comment, and keep checking this space for more startup, marketing and writing related posts.