Who was Amazon’s first customer? Who is their customer now?

If you’re running a startup, one of the most important questions you must be able to answer at any and all stages of your business is “who is my customer?” If you don’t know who that is, you cannot find them, attract them, engage them, and ultimately do business with them. The primary focus of customer discovery is exactly that: discover who your customers are. So who is your customer?

“Everybody” is NOT Your Customer

One of the most popular answers to that question, especially when it comes to B2C startups, is “everybody!” If that’s your answer, you’re wrong. Here’s the test to understand why in your own mind: what if “everybody” called today and ordered your product or service? What would happen? You’d be crushed under the demand, most of those customers would not get their product, and most of those who do would not be satisfied.

My friend and mentor Charlie Paparelli once made this concept very clear to me by drawing one horizontal line across a white board. “This line represents “everyone” who could possibly be your customer,” Charlie told me. “You cannot physically serve them all, so pick one. That one is your beach head, your starting point, your first customer.”

Get Your First Customer First

As a startup entrepreneur, your most pressing task is to get customers. Most importantly, your first task is to get your very first customer. Then 5, then 10, then 50, then 100, and so on. Depending on your business, the first 1000 customers might “look” exactly alike, meaning they fit a certain profile. But you have to start with one. To solidify that truth with both historical and successful context, consider this excerpt from a recent blog post by SaaS Blogger Tomas Tunguz:

In the beginning, Amazon sold only books, only online. At the outset, Amazon sold only books only online in the US. This decision limited the total addressable market and created additional friction in the checkout process because of the shipping latency. But, Amazon traded these disadvantages for capital efficiency. Amazon did not need to open retail stores and bear those operating costs. In addition, this decision enabled Amazon to optimize their warehouses for shipping rather than retail distribution.

Amazon could have said, “everyone is our customer!” but instead Bezos focused on books first until he could literally deliver almost anything to the consumer’s doorstep.

Amazon's fist customers bought only books

Be Extremely Specific

So, when someone asks, or you are determining who your customer is, remember that you have to start with one. That first customer is the basis for your 2nd, 3rd, 4th customers on up to product market fit. Then your customer may change, or expand, and that’s ok. Amazon still sells a LOT of books. How they deliver those books has changed greatly, as has the audience to whom they deliver those books.

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