Understanding Your Customer: Maximizing Startup Success

by Stu Minshew

On the topic of ‘maximizing BAM success factors’ we’ve invited guest authors to highlight what they consider key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. But what if you are a startup? What if you have a business idea and want to know how to maximize your success from the get-go? We asked entrepreneur and CO.STARTERS trainer Stu Minshew to share what he’s learned about maximizing startup success in this five part mini-series.

Part 3: Understanding Your Customer

As a current or future business owner, your customer is critical to your success. While we may believe that our customer exists to buy our products or service, the reality is that we exist to serve our customers. I appreciate how CO.STARTERS intensely focuses on knowing and serving your customer. This customer-centric view aligns with Christ-honoring Kingdom values. Jesus calls us to love, care for, and serve our neighbor, or customers, in the same manner that we desire to be served. In order to serve our customers well, keep them coming back, and increasing in number, we must deeply listen to and understand their needs and desires.

What’s inside your customer?

Traditional customer research focuses on demographics including age, gender, location, income, etc. While these are important, it is vital to understand the the factors that lie beneath the surface. What are their interests, passions, skills, beliefs, and values? For example, if you have a product or service for dog lovers, your customer will cover a wide-range of demographics, but it is important to realize they share a common trait, a love for dogs. 

You may have multiple customer types, each with their own characteristics and needs. Your customer might even be another business or organization. If so, you need to consider the needs and desires of those who contribute to the buying decision. And your customer may be purchasing the product for someone else, for example, a parent buying the toy for a child. All of these are considerations when determining how to best serve and meet the needs of your customers.

Digging Deeper

Once you know who your customer is, it is time to dig deeper. You need to know everything about them in order to best meet their needs. At CO.STARTERS, we encourage entrepreneurs to think through a typical day in which your customer uses your product or service.

  • What does my customer’s typical day look like?
  • Where does my customer work? What is her family situation?
  • Where and when does my business fit into my customer’s day?
  • When and how does the problem I’m trying to solve occur?
  • How do I provide a solution for this problem?
Follow Their Hearts

As you gain an understanding of your customer, you are ready to dive into the details of how to set up your business in order to serve them best. First, you need to understand their problem. What unmet need or desire do they have? This allows you to look at your business in terms of solving that problem.

  • What pain points does my customer have?
  • What does she want that she can’t have?

As you start to create your solution to meet this need or resolve this problem, you need to take a few things into consideration.

  • Are they currently using an alternative to meet this need?
  • Are there similar products or services available that will be your direct or indirect competition?

As you answer these questions, you should start to get an idea of how to set up and operate your business to successfully meet the needs of your customers. This takes us back to the Business Model Canvas that I mentioned in the first post in this series. This flexible tool will help you to set up your business based on your current understanding of your customers, but also enable you to revise it over time as your understanding of your customer continues to deepen.

Now, Let’s Get and Keep Them

Once you develop a thorough understanding of your customer and their needs, you are ready to incorporate those needs into your business concept. I’ll be discussing product and service development in my next post, but for a moment, let’s focus on engaging your customer once that process is complete. Once you have your newly designed product or service in hand, it will be time to spread your message and begin cultivating relationships with potential customers.

From the very beginning, it is imperative that you effectively communicate the benefit of your product or service. If you have the best product in the world with all the best features, but lack effective messaging that resonates with your customer, no one is going to buy your product.

As you start to put yourself out there, you must create a consistent message. Your message is the main idea you want to communicate to your customers about your business. There are many resources available on creating your message, so I won’t spend time diving into this topic. I will say that it is important that your message be consistent and clear, especially when communicating across multiple platforms.

If you have the best product in the world with all the best features, but lack effective messaging that resonates with your customer, no one is going to buy your product.

Getting your message out there is important, but it is not enough. At CO.STARTERS, we stress that you have to help your customer get to the point where they know, like, and trust you. Knowing you is just like a personal relationship. It happens over time with many points of contact, allowing your customer to become familiar with your product. People want to do business with those they find authentic, personal, approachable, and unique.

Trust builds as they see your business as credible and dependable. They want to see that you are going to follow through on what you say you are going to do. This begins with experiencing it first hand or hearing about it from a friend. However, it doesn’t end there.

Keeping Your Customer

As you start and grow your business, keeping customers is essential. Keeping an existing customer costs less than finding new ones. Customer retention will allow your business to work towards sustainability as you grow. In order to do this, we have to continue to deepen our relationship with them.

We must:

  • Provide high quality goods and services
  • Ensure customer support is friendly and helpful
  • See questions and complaints as an opportunity to build trust
  • Be timely with deliveries, payments, & etc.
  • Give more than expected
  • Find ways to continually improve the product or service
Next Steps…

As Christians engaging culture through business, it is crucial that we consider each aspect of loving and serving our customers. Do not settle for mediocrity in this arena, but be good stewards of the resources in your care. Strive to honor Christ in your business by offering quality products and services in a customer-centric environment.

Join me next time as we dive deeper into product/service development and talk about how starting small can increase your ability to successfully grow your business.

< Read Part 2: It Starts With You

Read Part 4: Starting Small >


The CO.STARTERS Canvas tool goes a long way toward helping you test your assumptions and determine if your business model is worth pursuing, before you begin looking for ways to make it more efficient.

CO.STARTERS has not only created the startup canvas but has also developed curriculum around it, and has been training a growing community of over 5,000 entrepreneurs and small business owners globally since 2013.

Be equipped for the startup journey: take the CO.STARTERS Canvas tool with you!

Download the CO.STARTERS Canvas for free here.



Stu Minshew is a facilitator for CO.STARTERS, a program that equips aspiring entrepreneurs to turn their passions into a sustainable and thriving endeavor. He is also co-founder of Mission Studio, created to help entrepreneurs explore the intersection of faith, business, and community.  You can connect with him online at ExpatStartup.co, where he helps expats across the globe achieve freedom of lifestyle and create positive social impact through entrepreneurship. A serial entrepreneur, Stu has previously started three other businesses, two located in East Africa and one in the United States. He mentors, trains, and consults with entrepreneurs and startups globally.