Listening skills are startups' most powerful weapon

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Listening is often embedded in the culture of startup businesses

Once again my business inspiration comes from my children. This time it’s a Chinese proverb I remember reading to them: ‘A wise old owl sat on an oak. The more he saw the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard. Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?’

As a small brand we are in the perfect place to be wise old owls – despite mostly being hip and happening 20-somethings (myself excluded). We run our own events, host our own tastings, answer all customer enquiries, do our own social media and create our own communications. We may do all this because it costs less than paying other people to do it, but it comes with the huge advantage that we are constantly hearing from our customers and consumers as well as would-be customers and consumers.

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The trick is not to get so caught up in being heard that we forget to listen. Easy to say, but also easy to forget when it seems that everyone is shouting about what their food or drink or brand can do for you. The temptation is to join in and find a way to shout louder, or find something different to shout about, or a new voice to shout in. Great fun and very necessary, and much easier to do well when you’ve already listened and heard what people want.

Listening is often embedded in startup businesses. We were the consumer asking for something that wasn’t there. We then took it to the next level by making the food we wanted ourselves.

As we’ve grown, it isn’t just about what foods to make but who our consumers are and what they’re interested in. I find this fascinating for its own sake, in the same way other people’s shopping baskets are irresistibly interesting, but it’s invaluable in finding the best way to talk to our consumers once we are ready to start shouting.

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The real win is when we hear something we weren’t even asking about. In the past few months we’ve started to get enquiries from consumers about where the almonds come from in our Almond Drink. This is our cue to start talking about Italian almonds on pack – something I’ve long wanted to do but was too esoteric when we started making the drinks.

When we are deluged with requests for retro glass milk bottles, my life will be made.

Camilla Barnard is co-founder and brand director of Rude Health

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