What a crying baby taught us about customer value

Not long after our son Dilan was born, my wife downloaded a free iPhone app from the App Store called White Noise Box. It’s an incredibly simply app: there are 5 different images you can tap that each play a specific variant of white noise. For example, tap the image of rain for soft white noise, or tap the image of water rapids for more harsh white noise. Tap again and the white noise stops. About 8 weeks in, I asked my wife, “If Noise Box was a paid app, how much would you be willing to pay?” Her answer: “Thousands.”

Draining my iPhone battery playing white noise all day

OK, so realistically speaking, I would spend a Saturday learning Objective-C and hissing into a microphone if I thought my wife was really about to drop a couple Gs on an iPhone app. Nonetheless, her response is instructive. Despite the fact that the app is nothing more than a couple of images and .wav files, the value of the app is immense. Why? For the longest time, the harsh white noise of water rapids was the only thing that would calm our excessively challenging newborn. We could change his diaper, swaddle him, sway him, sing to him, and fall to our knees begging for mercy to no avail. Tap the image on White Noise Box, however, and instant calm. It still works like magic 80% of the time.

For an entrepreneur, customer value is one of the most critical concepts to understand. It doesn’t matter whether it takes a day or a decade to built it. What really matters — at least in the case of “painkiller”-type products —  is the degree of your customer’s pain, and how well you alleviate it. Now to be fair, there are certainly other factors that come into play when setting price and assigning a value to your solution. In this case, it is fairly obvious that customers would evaluate competing products and alternative solutions (like running the vacuum cleaner) if buying White Noise Box meant wiping out the college fund. Even still, that doesn’t mean that an app this easy to replicate has to be free or super cheap. Imagine this for a moment: White Noise Box is called “The Baby Soothing App” in a sea of other generic white noise apps in the App Store.  It was featured in the latest issue of Happy Baby Magazine, and it popped up in at least 10 different forum answers you read between 3 and 5am last night (one-handed on your iPhone while trying to calm the little one). All of the moms on your street swear by it.

Now… look at your crying and consistently cranky baby. You can try your luck sifting through dozens of two-and-a-half star white noise apps in the App Store because they are all free, or you can succumb to the miracle $20 Baby Soothing app. I think you drop that Andrew Jackson and never look back.