If your customers think you do X, it really doesn’t matter if you think the company does Y. 

By Alicia Morga (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

Your startup is like a person. I’m not talking in the Romney “corporations are people, too, my friend” way. I mean that your startup is perceived by others as standing for something. It has an identity. It has a life. And like people, startups can lack self-awareness.

Case in point: recently I met with a founder and in the course of our discussion I told him that I used his product and I thought his company did X. He was instantly upset. He then jumped into a heated monologue about how I was wrong and insisted that his company really did Y.

I tried to explain to him that perception is reality. If your customers think you do X, it really doesn’t matter if you think the company does Y. The customers are paying for X.

I have found that where there is quick anger there is usually a bit of truth and this was no exception. He knew at some level that his company did X but really wanted his company to be doing Y. After some back-pedaling, he admitted that he wanted his company to change.

His company will never be able to change, however, unless and until they embrace and accept their current perception in the marketplace. Only then will they be able to leverage who they currently are into what they want to be with customers.

How do you do this? It requires an honest self-assessment. Like a person would ask themselves after a presentation – Did I talk too fast? Did I project confidence? – a founder has to step back and assess her startup. Do we do this well? Do we have the right employees for what we want to do?  Are we going after the healthiest market for us?

But a self-assessment is only the first step. To understand who your startup is, you have to ask for feedback.

You can seek feedback in a number of ways. When your startup is young you can do something as simple as email people your elevator pitch without giving context and ask recipients to respond with what they believe the company does. When your startup is older have someone more objective gather all the reviews on your product or service and present them to you.

In each case, notice how you feel about the feedback. Does it feel right? Does it make you upset? Where there are strong emotions, there are truths to uncover. And when you do the work of uncovering those truths – you’ll be ready to face them and ultimately change them and be the startup you always thought you could be.

Do you have your head in the sand about how your customers are really using your products?

14044b3About the blogger: Alicia (@aliciamorgais founder & CEO of No. 8 Media. Formerly, she founded a venture-funded digital marketing company focused on the Hispanic market, Consorte Media (acquired by Audience Science). She writes for Fast Company, the Huffington Post and the Christian Science Monitor. In her spare time, she created the app gottaFeeling and blogs