As a part of my exploration of potential segments I’ve adopted the process of Steve Blank‘s the Four Step’s to the Epiphany – if you never heard of him or the book it is an entrepreneur’s bible for customer development and was a part of starting the lean revolution that is blowing through the startup world in a rapid speed (correct me if I’m wrong as I might just have made this up).
The basic concept is built on that the focus for a start up should not be on a ‘Product Development Process’ but on a ‘Customer Development Process’. This is quite obvious when you start thinking about it in theory however it is not always applied in real life (just look at the failure of Segway as an example). Applying customer development has been proven to work very well for many entrepreneurs but the process is not adopted without putting some real effort into it.
The first epiphany that Blank introduce is ‘Customer Discovery’, where the focus is on validating that the segment you’re targeting is actually suffering from the problem that you’re trying to solve. This is key. You have to define the problem before you define the solution. I can’t even say it enough times. You have to define the problem before you define the solution. So in customer discovery process you’re asked to partly let go of the solution and I’ll admit that I found it difficult to let go, and this is the first learning I’m highlighting today.
More often than not the process is entered with a vision of a product or a solution to a problem in mind. However it is evident that the problems might be based on personal assumptions which may not apply with others view of reality. The customer discovery process will be counter productive if the focus is turned to the solution instead of discovering customers REAL needs. The interviews are wasted on grabbing and holding on to any validation to your product vision that you get. So I’ve identified a crucial learning that relates to the customer discovery process – to master the interview process. And there is only one way to do this PRACTICE! With practice comes valuable insight into how to separate problem interviews and from solution interviews. As a newbie, it means double the work and focus, but you’re gaining better understanding about your customers whilst also learning a valuable skill.
The last couple of weeks start up journey has been very slow and with poor progress. Choosing the right segments is not easy but the process is further complicated when discovering how difficult it is to actually get in direct contact with key people you need to interview. In a B2B market this challenge is even more evident and the higher up you want to come in the hierarchy the more difficult it becomes. Efforts to connect via LinkedIn, e-mailing and cold calling are not paying off and the learning becomes evident: it is crucial to have some kind of access to your customer base within your network. So far I’ve identified that analogue solutions exits to our solution, this is within fashion retail industry, and I’m moving on to validate this with other retail channels however more importantly I need to speak to some senior managers to validate if there is a budget and a need for technology in these processes? Yes partly I’m still at the same stage as when I blogged about business opportunities – although I was more naive then.
Evidently there are many benefits to reap through speaking to potential customers about their problems; it prevents you from making a product that your end user actually don’t want and it may even introduce you to your early adopters with whom you can create a feedback loop. So I will keep on pushing my efforts to reach out and I’ve got the feeling that it starts to pay off after the good news I received this morning. But I’m not going to jinx it. Tune in later to find out more learnings about customer discovery.