The Lean Startup approach to creating new business has become massively popular amongst online entrepreneurs for one reason: it works. The Lean Startup methodology with regards to customer development (broadly) dictates that we can create better products (and thus business) through continuous learning via being in constant contact with our customers.
I believe that this approach works well, but only after you actually have a first version (whether it's MVP or more extensive) out in the wild. I've got a couple of cautions (which I've listed below), but it is summarized well by this well-known quote from Henry Ford:
"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would've said faster horses."
Vivek Ravisankar has a nice post about this, where he explains how he stopped asking users which features they wanted to see in the product and instead asked them which problems they were facing. Doing that, he has enabled himself (or his team) to solve the problem in their own way. For Henry Ford this meant designing the Model T Ford, instead of trying to create faster horses.
Here's a couple of reasons why I'd suggest avoiding customer feedback prior to releasing version 1.0 of your product:
- Confusion. Imagine this: you have identified a big problem and have an idea of how to solve this (which you've validated with your potential target market). Now you start talking to users about the features & specifics of your solution and they are just brainstorming like crazy, spewing out the one suggestion / request after the other. Problem is all of this is theoretical and based on assumptions, which makes your task of figuring out what should go into 1.0 very confusing. (This same process has much more value when you have a 1.0 out there and users can base feedback on actual, existing features.)
- It distracts from your core strategy / vision. You're the entrepreneur & visionary here, which means you're in the best possible position to execute your vision. Trying to combine your vision with those of hundred other potential users is a challenging task at best, because you're likely to get 100 different visions. I'm not advocating naivety by just trusting your own vision and gut, but I'm suggesting caution here. Early criticism is like kryptonite to most entrepreneurs and this is likely to halt your motivation to get 1.0 done.
- Users generally don't know what they want; much less so before version 1.0. This may sound incredibly condescending, but unless your users are experts in the same field as your product, they likely don't know what they want. I say this, because many people are like sheep when it comes to features: "I've heard I absolutely need X, Y & Z for my new website". But the truth in most of these instances is that someone is trying to make money and thus peddling superfluous features that most users won't ever need. Don't discount what your prospective users have to say, but do your own due diligence on every feature request and make sure you're not the one peddling the superfluous features.
I'll round this off by saying that if you really need feedback prior to your 1.0 release, then speak to people you trust and people that can provide valuable insight into what you're doing. Asking any Joe Public for feedback at such an early (and critical) stage of your business, may just be more of a downer than a benefit; so be cautious in who you lend your ear to...