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Cement Mixers and Customer Development

Brant and I have finally finished our book, The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development:  A cheat sheet to The Four Steps to the Epiphany, within which we have included interviews from successful entrepreneurs in order see if their startup experiences mesh well with Brant's and my interpretation of and experiences with Customer Development.  (I won't beat around the bush, while our interviewees may not have called it Customer Development per se, they certainly practiced elements of what Steve Blank has codified as Customer Development in almost all but name.  And without exception, they applied fierce and relentless skepticism to all aspects of their businesses.)

We've had the pleasure of speaking with Jeff Smith (Smule), Fabrice Grinda (Zyngy, OLX), Ranjith Kumaran (YouSendIt), and Bruce Moeller (DriveCam).  We've condensed their experiences into case studies which are featured in the book.  However, there was so much great material, we simply could not include all of it.  Therefore, I'd like to take this opportunity to share an insight that came out of our interview with Bruce that we found quite edifying, one that goes to the heart of the Customer Development methodologies.

Background:  DriveCam uses video technology, expert analysis and driver coaching to reduce claims costs and saves lives by improving the way people drive.  From the DriveCam website:

DriveCam's palm-sized, exception based video event recorder is mounted on the windshield behind the rearview mirror and captures sights and sounds inside and outside the vehicle. Exceptional forces such as hard braking, swerving, collision, etc. cause the recorder to save critical seconds of audio and video footage immediately before and after the triggered event.

[Emphasis mine.]

Bruce shared an interesting story about how assumptions made in the lab, based on data and "sophisticated" math undertaken by "sophisticated" analysts, fared in the real world of cement mixer trucks.  Remember, the DriveCam device's core feature is to record audio and video when triggered by exceptional forces such as swerving.  When DriveCam went after the cement mixer truck market, they calibrated their devices based on the assumption that cement mixers would flip only if subject to a large sideways g force.

Seems reasonable, right?  After all, cement mixers are big, heavy trucks, and not to mention, filled with, well, the eponymous cement.

Turns out, not so reasonable after all.

Bruce recounted that when one of their first customer's cement mixer trucks flipped over, the DriveCam device had failed to record what had occurred and what may have caused the accident -- the customer was irate and Bruce was more than a little embarrassed.

Turns out that (outside of the lab!) cement mixers trucks can flip at very low speeds (1-2 mph) while at normal g forces when encountering things in the chaos of the real world, very ordinary and common things such as soft road shoulders.  Bruce's customer knew this and was counting on Bruce and the DriveCam team to know this as well.

Lesson learned:

"My philosophy is you don't know what you don't know and if you were ever right in a given moment, and if your guesses were ever true it would be serendipitous.  You must attack your assumptions at all times. My basic tenet: question yourself, because the world is ever-changing.”

-Bruce Moeller

For more insights that speak directly to the Customer Development processes, please purchase The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development:  A cheat sheet to The Four Steps to the Epiphany.

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “Cement Mixers and Customer Development”

  1. Don Li May 6, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Excellent observation. I didn’t call it “Customer Development” but something like “Customer-focused” or the starting point is Customers, and drew a picure of two objects: business and customers
    -> distance <-
    And with a marker of "distance" between them, the shorter the distance the closer to success…

    And how to make the Customer element tick, one option is, hire a bunch of them, thought that's the closest proximity one can get…

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