Henry Ford – The Faster Horse quote

I love this quote. The faster horse is definitely one of my favorite entrepreneurial quotes. That said, there is a lack of clarity around what the quote means. In this post, I will share my take on the quote, key lessons learned, and how I apply the concept of this quote in customer discovery. Enjoy!

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”
Henry Ford.

What does the “Faster Horse” quote mean?

The faster horse quote means that what customers ask for versus what they really want isn’t always the same. The faster horse concept is one of the most important concepts in customer discovery. The key that separates good from GREAT customer discovery is deciphering what customers really want. For example, the customer says they want a “faster horse,” but they really want to get from A to B more quickly. The faster horse concept is even more important in new and emerging markets.

What lesson does “Faster Horse” quote teach?

Let me put it right out there for all to see. The key lesson for me in this quote is that customers tend to intuitively know what they want (a faster horse). However, they often don’t know how to articulate what they want. If you take at face value what the customer is saying, you will most likely miss the mark.

For example, if Henry Ford had listened to what his customers were saying, “I want a faster horse.” he probably would have invented steroids (making the horse go faster) instead of the automobile. The lesson here is that customers don’t really want a faster horse. What they want is to get from A to B faster (A car). The key is getting to the root of what the customer is asking. There is a surface-level ask (a faster horse), but there is also a more profound “real” ask (a car).

What is the customer really asking for?

The founder’s job in customer discovery mode is to be the detective and figure out … when you say you want a faster horse …. What do you mean? A couple of great questions to keep in mind during customer discovery are …

What is the problem you are trying to solve? (Get from A to B faster)
What is the feature/product you are really asking for?” (A Car)

The customer discovery question “What are you really asking for?” is my key lesson from the “faster horse” quote. I find once you approach customer discovery armed with this question and a sense of curiosity, you have the tools to unravel the root request.

All the best,
Ian Paul Graham, Startup Coach
“I help founders find product market fit and startups research emerging markets.”