I am very proud of the fact that we had Palm users who helped us understand market needs.
Thinking back, its hard to say what we built in the company culture that fostered this relationship with our users.
When I used to read my B-school material "let the customer lead" used to sound good, but I could not wrap my arms around it. It seemed idealistic that a company can know who the real customer who was paying for the product and establish communictaion with them to let them tell us what they want us to improve or offer next and just listen.
With Coola, we started out as a dot com business, free download for Palm users, and free for smaller web sites to put Coolets (the Coola buttons) that a user can click to get that information into her Palm Apps later. Thinking back the real promise was in the product. Users loved it. We got 50 sites to put coolets in 3 months and went to larger web sites to signup as paid customers.
We were lucky that our user base was a vocal crowd that told us what they liked and did not like.
I think, inside the company, the product managers and engineers alike, loved to hear the feedback. So they responded and listened and adapted.
The more our users had ownership in what we built the more they supported us and helped promote us and our brand and the rest of product extensions were built in Internet time.
I owe it to users like this, for when we had to change direction from the web to focus on Enteprise customers and launched our Servers as "Coola Interchange", the users stuck with us.
They wrote our stories, our dreams and who in product marketing would not love for their customer to write the product spec sheets for them!