What Wedding Guests and Startups Have in Common

Your good friends Tom and Susan are getting married next month. They have a wedding registry filled with boring gift ideas like decorative throw pillows and pruning shears. You've known the happy couple for the last six years, so surely you can figure out a much more thoughtful, personal gift for them, right? Wrong.

study published in 2011 showed that gift givers prefer to give unrequested gifts because they perceive those gifts to be more thoughtful and personal**. Gift recipients, however, prefer gifts from their wedding registries. Givers believe that they know their friends well enough to pick great gifts, but that's not actually the case.

There's an obvious startup analogy here: it's tempting to assume that you understand your customers and can design the perfect product for them. However, your customers would most likely prefer their version of 'perfect' to yours. Instead of building things blindly based on your personal vision, explicitly interview your customers about what they need and build based on their answers. Not only will they be happier with the result, they'll perceive you as more thoughtful, too.

** A summary of the gift study's results:

  • Gift recipients appreciate gifts that they request more than gifts that they do not request. However, gift givers predict that the two types of gifts will be equally appreciated.
  • Gift givers predict that unrequested gifts will be considered more personal and thoughtful than requested ones, but the opposite is actually true.
  • If the recipient asks for a single specific gift, givers correctly predict that an unrequested gift not be as appreciated as the requested one.
  • Gift givers think money would be less appreciated than an item from a wish list, but it turns out that recipients actually value cash more than items they originally requested.