A few weeks ago, I wrote about a few indicators that a startup can use to determine if they’re ready to begin hiring salespeople. That was the approach that we took at Ideal Candidate in deciding that we were ready to hire our first sales reps.

This is a follow up as we did indeed hire two sales reps and they both started January 5th. How did we find them? We had the opportunity to eat our own dog food and use Ideal Candidate. It was fun to see how well our product works, but equally as fun to see first hand how much room for improvement there is. Every startup should make the effort to chow down and use their own product.

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What exactly is eating your own dog food?

It may seem obvious what I mean by eating your own dog food, so let me point out what dogfooding isn’t.

  • Pretending to use your own product by running test cases is not dogfooding
  • Showing a user mock ups and getting feedback is not dogfooding
  • Having your team jump into a board room to brainstorm the workflow is not dogfooding

The above are all important tasks, but they’re not the same as actually using your product like a real end user. So is it possible to eat your own dog food, even if you can’t use your own product day to day? Yes.

If you can’t use your own product, spend full days with your customers

A lot of ideas for new businesses happen organically, meaning you’re not necessarily intending to develop the product you end up with. In this case you may not be in a position where you use your own product day to day. For example, at my first business, we created software for safety record keeping at large construction projects. I personally would spend entire days with my users watching them use my product. I spent many days waking up at 5 am to go into a manufacturing facility, set up users with our mobile software and walked around using it with them.

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Spending time with your users in the actual setting they use your product is as close as you can get to eating your own dog food if you’re not in a position to use your product every day – and you’ll learn valuable lessons such as which features are most beneficial and which are confusing or missing.

Build a product that you can use, but make sure it solves a problem

If your product doesn’t come organically and you’re trying to come up with an idea, it can be tempting to create a product that you’d want to use and believe that there’s a big market for it. Being able to use your product every day is great, but make sure you’re not the only one that wants to use it. I believe you’re better off creating a product you don’t use personally in a big market vs. creating a product you do use personally in a very small market.

So what happened when we ate our own dog food?

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Not only did we succeed in finding sales reps much faster with less effort than using more traditional methods (e.g., staffing agencies and job boards) – I learned a lot about the usability of my own product during the process, which gave me a lot of insight on how to improve Ideal Candidate for our customers.

As a startup, if your own dog food isn’t both nutritious (adds tangible value) and delicious (provides a great user experience), then you know you need to make some changes.

I’ll follow up with another post about what we did in the first few weeks with our first sales reps. Stay tuned.

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Shaun Ricci

COO at Ideal
Shaun Ricci is a Canadian entrepreneur and the Co-Founder of Ideal. Shaun served as Co-Founder and COO of Field ID until it was acquired in December 2012. Shaun’s accomplishments include spots on the Profit Hot 50 and Deloitte Fast 50 Companies-to-Watch lists as well as the 2012 Ontario Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Shaun is also an active writer, documenting his wins and losses while building his startup sales team.