Imran Aftab | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Imran Aftab

Background:  

Based in Herndon, Va., 10Pearls is a mobile application and enterprise software development company, whose clients include Time Warner Cable, Nextel International, Johnson & Johnson and National Geographic, among others.

The Mistake:

I’ve been running this venture for 12 years. When we were starting off, companies would come to us with something they wanted us to do, and we would do a great job, but the customer wouldn’t come back. We would ask them “Why didn’t you want to use us again? We thought we did a good job by helping you deliver.”

They would just say that we did do a good job. But when we looked back, we saw that ... we were simply doing what they asked us to do, rather than asking them what they wanted to achieve. We weren’t voicing our opinions because we thought it would derail them, and that it would ultimately make the process more expensive and time-consuming for us. In the end, however, we were actually doing a disservice to the customer.

Start thinking of your customers as partners, and consider their problem from their shoes.

The Lesson:

Often, it’s understanding the customer’s end goal, and helping them along that path. Start thinking of your customers as partners, and consider their problem from their shoes.

We started to think like the customer, with the customer, by shifting our mindset to ensuring that the customer’s overall problem was being solved. People would come in for the discovery phase, and we would make some left and right turns, and it ended up being somewhat more expensive for us, but it helped us establish trust between ourselves the customer. The customer realized that we had to make some hard decisions for them to be more successful.

Our customers look at us as more of a partner than a vendor now. For example, if someone wanted to build a five-room house, we would say “Who is the house going to serve? Will it be used in winters and summers?” We would ask all the questions that allow us to build that perfect house for them.

By learning from that mistake early, we’ve been able to take our business to the next level.

Follow 10Pearls on Twitter at @TenPearls.

Pictured: Imran Aftab | Photo courtesy of 10Pearls.