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Customer Development is Hard. Do it.

Customer Development is Hard. Do it.

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I'm reposting this blog from my personal site: http://timmetzner.com/customer-development-is-hard-do-it-anyway. 

The concept of talking to your potential customers while you're building a product or company is far from a new idea, and it has certainly been further popularized by the "Lean Startup" movement and the work of people like Steve Blank (http://steveblank.com/2012/03/29/nail-the-customer-development-manifesto/). Yet, I would be willing to bet that a lack of proper customer development is still a leading contributor in startup failures.

So why aren't we doing it?  It's hard! Over the past week I've met with with over a dozen people, and have another half dozen meetings over the next few days, all for the purpose of gaining valuable insight, feedback and direction for a new project I'm working on. Sounds easy enough, but the truth is it's flat out exhausting (even when the meetings are largely positive). 

Forcing yourself to "get out of the building" and go talk to customers, even before you have anything to really show them, takes an incredible amount of discipline. As any founder can attest, once that idea strikes you, all you want to build! The last thing you want to do is give people a chance to talk you out of your shiny new idea, which I believe is what most people perceive customer development to be about. It's not.

The goal of those first meetings should not be to give people a chance to totally shoot your idea down, just to help you poke holes in it and see things you're inevitably missing. It's your first chance to REALLY start to understand what people want and need. Your idea might be great, but there's also a really good chance that some part of your original assumptions about the business model is going to be wrong. The good news? That's OK! Being wrong (and finding that out!) is an important part of developing a scalable business model, and the sooner you do that, the better off you'll be.

As you start talking to people, here are some common struggles you may face (knowing is half the battle, right?):

  • Temptation to get defensive: do your best to turn any questions or criticism you hear into an opportunity to gain valuable insight about where that person is coming from (vs. immediately trying to justify, either out loud or in your mind, why they're wrong)
  • Desire to call it "good enough" after early feedback: avoid the mistake of using positive early reaction as an excuse to abondon further customer development
  • Lining up "Yes Men": everyone wants positive feedback and to be around others who love their idea (and some amount of that is healthy!), but at the end of the day you'll gain a lot more from people who challenge your assumptions than those who simply agree with them (even if you don't end up changing what you're being challenged on)
  • Pivoting too quickly/easily: the opposite extreme can easily happen as well--after a few consecutive "bad meetings" you may start to find yourself wondering if its time for a major Pivot--it's possible, but it may just be time for a new iteration (know the difference)

Now go get out of the building. As my high school basketball coach was fond of saying, "if it was easy, everyone would do it!"

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