Empathy is the decider

I’ve met with a number of investors in the past couple of weeks, and the first big lesson I’ve learned is that if I ...

I’ve met with a number of investors in the past couple of weeks, and the first big lesson I’ve learned is that if I can’t get them to deeply empathize with the customer problem, then we’re just wasting each other’s time. Seems obvious, right?

I’m not making excuses or blaming them — it’s 100% on me to hook people into the story and create empathy. However, I’m observing that it’s very difficult for people to relate to an experience that differs so much from their own.

This challenge is part of a broader theme in diversity and inclusion initiatives all around the country.

48 million people in the U.S. have hearing loss, so there’s a decent chance you know someone who deals with the accompanying difficulties and struggles. But, if you don’t have a family member, colleague, or friend with hearing loss, and if you don’t experience hearing loss yourself, I’ve been finding it more difficult than I had anticipated to create empathy for the problem.

Conversations are remarkably different when the investor has empathy for the customer problem and when they don’t.

There’s an easy indicator I’ve observed for when they don’t: they recommend I look at a different target market—for a translation use case. I have. It’s teeny tiny—orders of magnitude smaller than the hearing loss market. It’s almost not worth me sharing this, as I’ve already lost them.

What’s behind their recommendation to look at a different market with a different use case? They’ve made assumptions about my target market based on ageist stereotypes. They then reach baseless conclusions on these false assumptions to determine that I don’t have a viable business.

This is despite me leading with a story of a healthy 67 year-old man with severe hearing loss hacking together a technically complicated solution that helps him better understand conversations. I back this up with a stat of how many people like him are using similar hacks, and the high pre-order commitment rate we’ve achieved for the product we’re bringing to market. But none of this matters, because I wasn’t able to get them to change their preconceptions about my customers.

My intention isn’t to complain and sound bitter—on the contrary, it’s motivating me to think of other ways to help create empathy for this widespread human problem. I’m kicking around ideas—let me know if you have suggestions.

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