Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of market research. Skipping the initial research, or not being thorough with it, could mean the death of a startup. That's due to wasteful spending of time and money on creating solutions that people don't want--for problems that don't exist.

Fahad Aziz, CTO and co-founder of Caremerge, took market research to the extreme prior to starting his Chicago-based company in 2012. Caremerge is a web and mobile communication tool for senior living communities--so Aziz spent three months living in an assisted living community.

The efforts paid off: Caremerge claimed the No. 1489 spot on 2018's Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America, thanks to a three-year growth rate of 315 percent. I recently had a conversation with Aziz, and he shared the three key takeaways from his experience: 

1. He lived and understood the daily life of his customers.

After identifying the lack of coordination that exists between various healthcare providers, Aziz and his co-founder Asif Khan decided to focus on senior living communities. The only problem: Neither co-founder was familiar with this industry.

So, they did what seemed like the best way to learn. They lived with the senior residents, literally.

You, of course, can't just sign up to live in an assisted living community. Aziz spoke with an executive director at an assisted living community who struggled with a lack of technology and excessive paperwork while managing the facility. He approached the director with a potential technology solution and asked if he could observe the staff, residents, and family members on a daily and nightly basis to help refine his idea. The executive director agreed.

"It is critical that you stay close to the customer base you are trying to build the solutions for," Aziz said. "I have seen several entrepreneurs making the same mistake... They design products without interacting with their customers, and when the product is ultimately released, it doesn't address the root cause. But then, it's too late and difficult to change."

You might not want to, or be able to live with your customers, but if you don't even try, you might miss out on the opportunity. So go ahead, make the strange request.

2. He let his customers' needs drive innovation.

Instead of assuming he had the best solution, Aziz meticulously observed and asked questions to uncover challenges he may not have considered himself.

For the seniors, common barriers to technology include learning to use a tablet, remembering the login, and connecting to WiFi. The staff wanted technology to free up their time with organizing their workflow and documentaion so they could more of what they love--caring for seniors.

Keeping these needs in mind, Caremerge partnered with Amazon to put Alexa in every senior's room. He then provided the staff with an online portal to manage all the Alexa devices, saving them from going room to room to provide technical support.

Simpler is almost always better than innovative. The more your customers understand why your product solves your pain, the more growth you will see. I once reached out to 100 people asking for their business via a cold-email, and got 15 meetings out of it. All it took was one email and a simple message about their pain point and how I can solve it.

Simple works.

3. His core mission values remain the same--seven years later.

It has been seven years since Aziz started his company. He still meets with customers and visit senior communities a few times per month.

"We have to build products that not only solve problems but are also loved by our users," Aziz explained. "This goal is only achievable when you spend time with your customers and listen to them."

It's important to not forget that people build its success--these people are your customers and your employees. As you grow your business, the best first move is to test and validate that your product truly solves their problem.

Of course, I'm not saying you have to literally live with your customers--like Aziz did--to get that feedback. It wouldn't hurt, though.

Published on: Feb 28, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.