Gaining enough traction, for an early stage startup, usually means the difference between life and death. And while the product that is placed in their hands is of course significant, it’s the hands in which it’s placed that decide whether or not it has value. “Who is it for?” Is one of the most fundamental questions a digital product maker will ask.

It’s rare that a startup would aim for the mass market right of the bat. And this is for good reason. Change doesn’t come from the middle. The middle is, well, the middle is average. Change starts at the edges, change starts with the outliers. We want to cherry-pick a select few of these individuals, and woo them with our product wizardry.

There are hundreds of methods for defining an audience, this article focuses on our favorite.

The High Expectation Customer (HXC)

This framework embodies one of our core company values, ‘Lean precision’. How can we achieve the best results with the least resources? When this mentality is applied to target audiences, the result is the HXC. For this reason, we think the framework is perfect for startups.

The High-Expectation Customer is a 3-in-1 customer who is a benefiter (Someone who will benefit the most from your product), a hacker (Someone who is already using multiple hacks to solve the problem), and an expert (People aspire to emulate them).

A benefiter

Let’s say that we’re building an app that helps people cook better quality meals step-by-step. Almost everyone with a kitchen is a potential customer. One day of course we’ll get them all, but that’s certainly not the place to start. A better question is, who will benefit the most from our unique product offer?

  • A mom of three kids
  • A professional chef who owns a bistro
  • A college student who has just moved into a student flat

Once we’ve identified our benefiter, we’re ready to start tailoring our core user experience to their needs. As we’re building a cooking app, what might help them feel that they are achieving the most in the kitchen?

A hacker

Our HXC doesn’t need convincing they have a problem, they’re living it. And it’s so important to them they’ve taken the time to stitch together multiple hacks to temporarily solve it. What they’re looking for is one single elegant solution.

Because of their deep knowledge of the problem and the market, they’re the best people to shape our product from day one. Not only is their feedback essential, but they’re also very forgiving. When something goes wrong rather than complaining or deleting, they’re looking to help. Their interests are aligned with ours, and for this reason they’re potential product evangelists.

An Expert

Lisa is a fitness fanatic. She studies nutrition in her spare time, reads blogs about running and yoga, and exercises six days a week. She’s always on top of the latest health and fitness trends. When her friends have questions about fitness, they don’t bother with research, they ask her.

Friends and colleagues of our HXC see them as an expert in the particular field or subject. They’re constantly on the lookout for products that can help them reach a better version of themselves. Others see them as people who make smart choices and trust them in their decisions. For this reason, the expert helps our product scale organically and is an active driver of growth.

Conclusion

Defining a target audience goes far far beyond influencing what you’ll post on social media. These are the people that will decide whether your product is a success or a failure. The HXC framework is excellent at identifying the most effective audience for early-stage startups to target. When this is done correctly it’s influence can reach every corner of an organization, and align that same team with an essential navigation tool towards success.

The High Expectation Customer framework was created by Julie Supan and used in her work with Airbnb and Dropbox. The 3 in 1 breakdown of this concept was inspired by the work of Prachi Nain.

Jeremy Lefèbre
Founder