As AI continues to take over the world, startups like Clara Labs have to rely on contemporary tactics built upon tested methods in order to ensure the revolutionary products they're building are capable of staying ahead of the competition. All while trying to stay focused and nimble.

Clara Labs' first public product, a virtual employee that helps you stay on top of your calendar, has received a lot of acclaim as a result. The success of Clara comes, in part, from the company's ability to solve real-world needs in a rapidly evolving and ever improving way.

Just include Clara into your email conversation and a complex system of machine learning software can help automate scheduling meetings or follow-ups without you having to worry over time zone differences, overbooked calendars, or archived messaging. While email and schedule optimization is where Clara currently works most effectively, the team behind the product says that new methods for managing relationships and getting more done--outside of email--are close to follow.

How does Clara Labs handle being in the forefront of artificial intelligence and virtual assistants? Better yet: what can you learn from them in order to ensure you're moving fast enough with your own, riskier ideas without crashing and burning?

Maran Nelson, Clara Labs CEO, says that the trick to successfully run such an innovative product company is to make sure you're not entirely delusional. In a recent Q&A with ProductHunt she writes:

"You feel incompetent because honestly you probably are incompetent.... The trick is making sure you're not delusional. Your customers are the only people that can tell you whether your vision is reasonable; you can't operate in a vacuum and expect to succeed. So forgive your inadequacy...talk to your customers, and continuously communicate your vision."

Of course if you aren't proficient at talking to existing or would-be customers it can be hard to know where to start. If you're not good at listening, for example, you'll only ever hear what you want to hear. Nelson says that being a good listener means two things:

1. You have to care about the people you're talking to.

Sitting down to chat with a potential customer without caring about them is a sure-fire way to allow their feedback to lead you in the wrong direction.

Without knowing the reasons why someone feels a certain way, or why a potential problem is a problem for a specific person, it's easy to look at any feedback they give as totally right or ignorable wrong.

This is the methodology experts like Harvard Business School Professor and author Clayton Christensen try to utilize when consulting with businesses. Christensen, for example, has famously created the Jobs to Be Done framework for identifying more about customers than what a traditional survey or conversation could ever convey. Christensen explains:

"Customers rarely make buying decisions around what the 'average' customer in their category may do--but they often buy things because they find themselves with a problem they would like to solve. With an understanding of the 'job' for which customers find themselves 'hiring' a product or service, companies can more accurately develop and market products well-tailored to what customers are already trying to do."

To get the right insights from customers it's not enough to send out an email survey or have a focus lab study done. You must really care about the people you're talking to and get to know their hopes, needs, and desires as they result to the job your product or service is trying to do for them.

Nelson goes on to say:

"Your customer is the only person that can help you overcome your fear of failure. Talk to them constantly, listen when they tell you who they are and what's hurting them. Be patient with yourself, and build the thing they need. Success is an inevitability if you're willing to do this for a long enough period of time."

2. Appreciate that they, like you, don't have all the answers.

"If you think you've got it all figured out," Nelson states, "you won't think there's anything to gain in conversations with other people."

By approaching any conversation--with team members, advisors, or customers--as an opportunity to learn and grow together, you're much more likely to identify pockets of opportunity.

To quote Bill Nye: "Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't."

It's your job as an innovator to find what that knowledge is and how it might help improve your work. But to do that you first have to believe that you, and those you are talking to, don't have all the answers; and that that's alright because it means there's a way to help each other.

Published on: Jul 30, 2016
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