Startups – Kill that “Elastic User’, before it Kills you!

Many entrepreneurs live and work for an elastic user – ‘that’ user whose demands/needs are stretched to meet the product/feature definition. If you fall under this bucket, kill ‘that’ elastic user, before it kills you!

The more I work closely with startups, the more I realize how easily have easily they built a notion of ‘elastic user’ into their product execution.

Especially those startups where founding teams have a strong geeky background or very strong design background (yes! the two extremes meet with some elasticity)

What is “Elastic User”?

One of the biggest challenge for any startup/small business is to understand the users – who they are, what they do, what product attributes will work for them etc. While you may not have a lot of money to conduct market research (most of the times, it’s not even worth it), the next best alternative is to make certain assumptions about the user and build product/features accordingly.

And if you belong to one of those two extremes (i.e. the founding team is either too geeky or design focused), one gets lost in the so called ‘self-referential design’, i.e.designer or developer may unconsciously enforce their own mental models on the product design which may be very different from that of the target user population (wikipedia).

The Elastic User - Stretch and Bend to suit one's need
The Elastic User - Stretch and Bend to suit one's need

Basically, the elastic user is stretched to meet developer/designer’s implementation strategy (related: The Story of Hammer and Nail (and Startups)), a sort of comfort zone approach used by many founders to justify what they are doing.
Instead of bending the software to meet user demand, the user is stretched, pulled (in all directions) to meet the demand of the software!

So how do you kill the ‘elastic user’?

Best that you can do is to be-aware of the fact that you are working with an ‘elastic user’ in mind – most of the startups aren’t even aware of this. Infact, many of them do not even have a clear user definition in mind (typical process is to first implement, figure out the technology part and once you are done with the product, figure out how to market!).

What has been your experience? Did you ever realize the ‘elastic user’ that you are working with?

[A lot of the above will be discussed at the Product Strategy Workshop on Saturday. A few seats are left, so do get in touch with ashish at or sameer.shisodia at ]

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