During a recent product development meeting, a smart team member posed the question, “What do people actually want?" then suggested the obvious: "We should talk to prospective customers.”

Related: 5 Cool Things You Can Do With Customer Feedback

A noble idea, right? So, we started brainstorming ways to get input from those potential customers. We considered running a survey though an industry membership organization. We talked about building focus groups. We booked a couple of coffee meetings with local industry folks to hear their thoughts. What happened next?

Nothing -- we got zero input. No one wants to tell you what to build. You barely even have the right to ask another busy professional what you “should” build. Your product’s conception and development is no one’s business but your own.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore your users. Steve Jobs was right when he said, “A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” The key is to show people something in the real world. You want feedback, not focus groups.

So, instead of focus groups and professional meet-ups, I took a more direct and maybe unorthodox approach to getting feedback. I downloaded the contact info for the most recent 10,000 users of Recruiter.com and invited each one to book a 15-minute meeting with me. I pushed “SEND” and immediately thought, “This may be the biggest mistake of my life.”

Instead, it’s turning out to be one of the the best things I’ve done for my business. Here’s what happened:

1. The email

I sent the email to a list of 10,000 people using our Mailchimp account. The email got a 48 percent open rate and a 2.8 percent click-through rate -- great numbers, but the email was sent to our current users, so that’s to be expected. Here’s the exact text of the email I sent: Thanks for using Recruiter.com recently! Keeping in touch with our users and customers is super important to me -- I make sure to spend a good part of my week listening to feedback and getting to know our users personally.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about Recruiter.com and answer any of your questions. Who knows -- I might be able to help with a business or career issue that you are currently facing.

You can schedule a quick 10-15 minute call with me through my online calendar. I look forward to speaking with you!

Related: How to Best Utilize Your Positive Customer Feedback

2. The response

Over the next day, meeting requests came flooding in. As they started flowing in faster and faster, I did have an initial feeling of dread: What if my calendar ends up booked for the next two years? But, in total (so far), I’ve received 54 meeting confirmations -- a little more than 1 percent of the users that opened the email. That's a big, but still manageable, number of phone meetings.

We also received a lot of immediate comments in reply to the email. We actually had a couple of calls to our customer service asking if this was a scam. After all, what CEO in his or her right mind invites 10,000 people to chat? We received about 30 email replies with all sorts of interesting feedback. There were two customer service issues that were good to know about. And, overall, there were a lot more positive reactions than negative ones. People were glad that someone reached out to them!

3. The meetings

I’m still in the middle of conducting these user meetings, but the experience so far has been both challenging and heart-warming. Recruiter.com provides job alerts and recruiting services, so most of my meetings have been with job seekers. It's been an incredibly diverse mix of people from across the country and all walks of life.

Most people on the call assume that our aim is a survey, that I’ll be asking for their specific feedback on site functionality. But what I want is really just a conversation. I learn what users are trying to do in their careers and then try to help as much as I can, regardless of the services my company provides.

Hearing everyone’s personal stories and situations is an incredibly deep experience. It gives you the feeling of a mission. You want to help people. I mention that it’s challenging, because it’s a big job. Trying to make your company be something that really helps lots of people is a high bar to meet. You feel a sharp clarity of purpose, but also a huge sense of responsibility.

4. The takeaways

During every meeting, I take notes. Not just about the person’s feedback, but about him or her personally. I’m also trying to follow up on every single one of these meetings, with personal comments about the conversation and any advice that I have for the person I met with.

With every new service or project that we develop, I will think about these real people out there in the real world by name, and I will try to make things that help them.These conversations and their lasting effects will inform every bit of design, development, marketing and messaging we do from here on out.

Even at a startup, it’s easy to lose touch with the people who are actually interacting with and using your business services. It’s easy to rely on industry trends or listen to analysts and social media. But the heart of your company must be your mission or purpose -- your calling.

Discover your own mission by talking to real people who are using your service. Feel the depth of your mission by listening to their stories.

Related: How Customer Feedback Can Stymie Innovation