While meditating on the train one day recently, I overheard two guys talking. It was a happy disruption because one guy was expressing the pain that I founded my company to address. He was a business development guy working at a Silicon Valley hardware company. He was saying he liked his job, and got to work on cool new technology. But what he didn’t like was that it was one step removed from the customer, which made it difficult for him to know what customers really wanted. In Silicon Valley, finding that out is the job of product managers/market researchers.

Well, that same frustration is exactly what led me to found NetBase! When I was an young engineer at Ariba, I spent a year working on an innovative new product. But the project was cancelled and all the work that my colleagues and I had done was thrown out. It was devastating—all my professional work up to that point was just discarded. I didn’t want to see that happen again because I thought it was bad for the economy and I didn’t like it personally.

So I began researching the process of innovation with the goal of understanding it better and, ideally, finding ways to improve it. I started by examining the Ariba project and came to the conclusion that it had been cancelled because the work wasn’t related to a customer need; it was just an interesting idea. That’s when it occurred to me that the same explanation applies to many failed innovation projects within corporations: They fail when people developing products or services deep within a company aren’t connected to their customers and don’t know what their needs are.

That experience and that conclusion led me to study innovation at MIT and to found NetBase.

So now, using the ConsumerBase tool we’ve developed, business development guys can quickly and easily get a much better understanding of their customers—they don’t need to be in the dark anymore. They can source technologies and strategic partnerships with justification based on real quotes from consumers about what they want.

Going one step further, it’s worth making the point that people who can benefit from using ConsumerBase to understand consumers aren’t limited to market researchers or the biz dev people I mention here. ConsumerBase is for anyone in a company who could do a better job if they could just get a clearer understanding of what customers really want.

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