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Tagged Customer Development

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State of Customer Development Survey Raffle Winners

Hi everyone!

Thank you for your participation in the survey, especially if you were kind enough to tweet about it.  (While the raffle is over, if you haven't responded, the survey is still open.) The purpose of the survey was two-fold.

First, we thought it would be interesting to see a little detail about who is involved with Customer Development. You can see those results here.

While the survey results add a bit of color to who is implementing Customer Development methodologies or thinking about doing Customer Development, I wouldn't draw any hard conclusions from the data.  BTW for the those who read 4 Steps to the Epiphany, n ≈ 33.  For those who didn't read 4 Steps to the Epiphany, n ≈ 28.

Second, we are thinking about tools, templates, and other resources to help people understand and implement Customer Development in their business ventures. Stay tuned, for in the coming months, we plan to make some of these resources available to you.

Almost forgot!  Our two winners of the random raffle are: Dave Concannon and Kevin Donaldson.

Thanks again to everyone.  Happy holidays!

Seller Beware: Customers Have Their Own Agenda

Note: One of the more difficult aspects of customer development is understanding when to listen to customers/prospects and when not to. When should you rely on intuition and when is the customer right, if not always? Steve Blank's oft quoted clarion call to "get out of the building" demands that you listen to customers, but not that you necessarily heed what they say! You may have the wrong customer for your business. You may have the right customer who emphasizes the wrong root cause to a problem. As I tweeted the other day:

maybe your product focus should be what your current customers don't ask for or what your lost customers wanted.

I invited "CustDevGuy," author of the "Fake Screenshot/LOI" customer development case study, to write up a continuation of that story, which illustrates an easy trap to fall into when interacting with potential customers. Here's his story:

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Hi there.

This guest-post is a follow-up to my original Case Study posted at the Lean Startup Circle.  (Thanks Brant for lending me your digital soapbox.)  I wanted to further flesh out an important insight that came out of conversations about my ongoing Customer Development experiences as well as address a common fallacy that keeps popping up in conversations and email threads with regards to what Customer Development is and isn't.  The fallacy being that customers will simply hand over the Holy Grail (read: Product/Market Fit) if you go and chat a bit with them.
Continue reading “Seller Beware: Customers Have Their Own Agenda” »

Customer Development Presentation

Unlike my classmates who headed to Silicon Valley from UC Davis upon graduation, I moved to Washington DC to work for a defense consulting firm. After a couple of years, "I dropped out" to write a novel, which I subsequently finished, explored the country for 3 months, finally landing in San Francisco and beginning my career in technology.

My book was (is) trite and sophomoric. After all, what insights do most 20-somethings have worth sharing? A lack of experience -- a lack of failure -- makes pontification shallow. One of my younger brothers, who was trying to make a living as a painter at the time, had a great comment. He said that he felt my book, like his art, was merely trying to say too much. That it wasn't that we didn't have good things to say, but that there was lack of discipline in focusing and examining in greater depth a few ideas, rather than "letting it all hang out."

I think young entrepreneurs suffer from a similar malady. Continue reading “Customer Development Presentation” »

4 Anti-Lean Startup Archetypes

There are many reasons why entrepreneurs don't, or more accurately won't adopt lean startup principles.  In the last few weeks, I've encountered each of the archetypes described below.  In each case, the individuals have some awareness of #leanstartup, based on my discussions, as well as sharing Ries' and Blank's resources with them. Continue reading “4 Anti-Lean Startup Archetypes” »

Lean Start-up, Part V – MVP Fail

(To view prior posts in this series, click here.)

I think I've mostly failed to limit product development to minimum viable product (MVP).  The essence of MVP is counter-intuitive to entrepreneurs who know what needs to be built.  MVP is downright anathema to some  wh have actually confirmed suspicions by speaking to customers, e.g. through customer development. Why limit what is built if you've confirmed with customers they want it all?

The problem is that the fact that customers tell you they want a feature doesn't prove anything.  The proof is in the payment.  Continue reading “Lean Start-up, Part V – MVP Fail” »

How to find early adopters

The toughest part about practicing customer development is getting started.  You already know that customers are not going to magically find you because you have a great product, work hard and are good looking.  Now that you've realized how big the world is and that using a megaphone from your roof top is a poor method of user acquisition, what's next?

Presumably if you are committed to the principles of customer development, you are already committed to "getting out of the building."  Before you can interview potential customers, however, you have to find potential customers to interview.  Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets.   This is painstaking work.  Just as with other portions of the customer development model, to find early adopters you make assumptions, test, and iterate.  If you are having trouble getting started, try these steps: Continue reading “How to find early adopters” »

Who owns the vision?

I love the work Eric Ries is doing with Lean Startup.  (IMO, coupled with an investment model where funds are predicated on implementation of lean startup principles and achieving specific customer development milestones #leanstartup could revolutionize the start-up and investment landscapes.)

Words are powerful and and the intent of catchy phrases can be lost when removed from their original context.  I brought this up before a few weeks back, when the "Fail Fast" meme was cruising through Twitter and among some cheerleaders, it seems, failing itself had become the best means to success, as if it were the end objective, as if tripping your way to finish line will ensure you are the winner.

So it goes, IMO, with this quote about the customer's vision:

Early customers are often more visionary than the startup they work with for that product.

I'm not so sure.  Continue reading “Who owns the vision?” »

Lean Start-up Part IV

It has been awhile since I've updated the progress on a very lean startup I'm helping out.  Last time out I briefly discuss our first engagement with customers through personal interviews and surveys.

I am pleased to report our first failure.  : )

According to our surveys and interviews, our assumptions regarding who will be willing to pay for what appear to be wrong.  (I might add, too, that the feedback seems to be running exactly opposite of the expert advice the company heard while going through a local mentoring process.)

So now that we've got our answers, we're ready to go to market, right?
Continue reading “Lean Start-up Part IV” »

Customer Development is Hard.

I've been working in technology for a pretty long time, having weaved my way along an illuminating path through development, IT, project management, product management, product marketing, marketing and executive leadership.

The two key principles that tie the threads of my career together are customer development and project management. (One could probably look at all of life this way, too.)

Two epochal moments happened in my career at one company, Tumbleweed (now part of Axway), that helped me consciously acknowledge these two principles.

  • I learned from CFO Joe Consul that what I had been doing for years was actually called project management.  (Yes, some of us are slower than others.)  I was able to structure and formalize what I was doing, which allowed me to become more efficient, teach others, scale, etc.
  • I learned from marketing that although I was an IT Manager, my views on how to sell to IT Managers (our target market), was not necessary.

(I should mention a third moment, because it was a pivotal for my learning.  I learned from CEO Jeff Smith that passion is a key (though not sufficient) ingredient to success.  Jeff was out to change the world and he in infected us with his enthusiasm.)

Tumbleweed was an interesting ride; it reached the highs and suffered the lows that all businesses that last 10+ years endure.  A lot of mistakes were made, and a lot of lessons learned.   There were many success stories, too, and, unsurprisingly, lessons learned there, too.  I saw evidence of certain elements of Geoffrey Moore's  Chasm, as well as in retrospect, a lack of customer development.

Not to fault anyone, but the late 90s saw a lot of customer defumblement.

Steve Blank's presentation of Customer Development is persuasive.  Eric Ries' Lean Startup, combining customer development and agile development principles is even elegant.

The simplicity of necessity masks the complexity of execution.

Whether internal or external, formally defined or not, no matter what you are doing, you have a customer.  Whether explicitly defined or not, you also have at least one objective associated with your customer, e.g., make them happy, accept their money, increase their market share. To reach objectives, you must execute on a carefully-crafted plan; a carefully-crafted plan that you must defenestrate the moment you conclude it doesn't work.  Hopefully your plan includes post-defenestration steps.

Steve Blank @ startup2startup joked that, to put it mildly, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, is a difficult read.   But customer development isn't hard because Blank's book is difficult to read.  Customer development is hard because the answers to the questions that will test your assumptions are difficult to come by.   As any project manager who has ever had to "gather requirements" knows, customers don't know what they don't know.

The customer is not always right, but they do have the last word.

It's your job to empower and persuade customers to act in a way that achieves your objectives for them.  But how do you know how to get them to act? You can guess. You can hard sell. You can ask. You can lie.

If you go about empowering and persuading the wrong way, you will lose your customer. You will lose your customer because of some combination of:

  • You never actually located your customer.
  • Your objectives for the customer were not clear.
  • Your tactics for achieving the objectives did not match the  customer's behavior.
  • Your process for "listening" to the customer was wrong or incomplete.
  • You failed to execute.

A disciplined approach for web-based products allows for faster learning, but for "offline" products, customer development is a particularly meticulous and  time-consuming process.

Here are some customer development hurdles entrepreneurs and executives need to overcome:

  • A dislike of "cold-calling" potential customers;
  • The propensity for selling, not listening;
  • Habitual requirements gathering, instead of learning the pains;
  • Over dependence on surveys;
  • Reliance on focus groups, not interviews;
  • Belief that past experience guarantees future;
  • Basing conclusions on personal narratives.

I'm sure there are more; feel free to share in comments.

Customer Development Gut Checks

Through the evolution of their start-ups, entrepreneurs will face many  inflection points, at which decisions made or not made will determine their future.   The painful truth is that a wrong turn may lead to its demise, whereas a right turn leads to another inflection point.

Relevant to ongoing discussions about Blank's "Customer Development," I wish to highlight a few of these "inflection points."

The first step in Blank's model is "Customer Discovery."   This step seeks to answer this fundamental question: Continue reading “Customer Development Gut Checks” »

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