VCs and Marketing Firms Courting Young People — And the Myth of More Customer Feedback is Better

A really funny story (free) in the WSJ a couple weeks ago about VCs trying to understand and court young people — both young consumers and young entrepreneurs. David Cowan, the main VC subject of the article, and I agreed that the next step is for him to set up a fraternity — Old School style. There was also word on SiliconBeat that the Mayfield Fund recently hired a 29 year-old guy to help them attract cash-hungry young entrepreneurs and to understand the youth demographic driving the MySpace phenomenon.

Besides finding this all hilarious, I just wanted to add that I believe some customer feedback is a good thing, but not too much. I believe in many instances customers don’t know what they want, if only because they’re ensconced in a default reality that doesn’t allow them to imagine new and better ways of living. In the complicated world of teenage wants, this is probably more the case.

That’s why I scratch my head when I get emails from market research firms looking to gather teens and talk about where their/our technology desires are heading. Like in other customer segments, I don’t think teens know what they’ll want in the future, and holding a focus group to figure it out will be an exercise of fascinating but unhelpful group psychology: "How I can please the facilitator by sounding smart?" The same thing happens when you parade a handful of teens on-stage in front of adults at the Web 2.0 conference.

While teenage behavior may be complicated, it’s not hard to figure out. I advise companies building the next mySpace-killer to consult teenagers, but less frequently, and instead think about what drives all user behavior and which parts of that behavior can be captured and monetized.

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