Edith Harbaugh: It’s Your Execution Not Your Idea

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, skmurphy

This is a guest post by Edith Harbaugh. She moderates the Lean Startup Circle mailing list but doesn’t have a blog of her own, so I have offered her mine because I was impressed by her insights and writing.

It’s Your Execution Not Your Idea

An initially dispiriting thing to hear from a customer is “I had that idea years ago”, or “I built a version of that”.

What?  You mean our product is not completely unique?

The more I heard “Years ago I had that idea” though, the more I realized that it was GOOD that customers had thought of this need, and had not been able to build it or buy it previously.  People who said this were a built-in market ready to buy.

Our advantage was in executing on the idea and bringing it to market, not in the idea itself.

Effective Execution Starts With a Clear Picture Of Your Customer

Do you have a clear picture in your mind of what your customer looks like?  Who they are?

Asking random people to “look at my site” is at best mildly distracting and at worst destructive to your sanity and progress.  I could look at a Fantasy Football site and give all sorts of feedback, but I’m never going to sign up for a Fantasy Football site.

Find people who you think are your customers, and ask them if they’d use your site.  If they won’t use it, ask them why not.  Listen to what they say.  You might not be able to address their concerns, but you’ll know where you’ll stand.  At that point, a simple “Thanks for your feedback, can we contact you when we make more progress?” leaves the door open for future discussions, without committing to specific actions.

How to Define The First Release

A good technique to define the first release of a product is to think about what you want a user to accomplish in the first 5 minutes of using your site.   Break your ideas into the first 30 seconds, first 2 minutes, and first 5 minutes?

  • 30 seconds: Person arrives at my site.  I have 30 seconds to convince them the site is valuable and relevant, or they’ll hit the back button.  What’s your value proposition?
  • 2 minutes: If they see the value proposition, what activity do I want them to do in the next 90 seconds? What’s my Call To Action?
  • 5 minutes: After 5 minutes, what “goodness” have I delivered to the user that they’ll come back again?

This framework makes it easier to see what are power user features vs what absolutely needs to get built first.  If you’re not delivering value to a user in the first 2 minutes, they’ll never even see or use the rest of your site!

Don’t Lose Newcomer’s Eyes

Be careful that your team can lose “newcomer’s eyes” when they have been testing for a while, and shift focus to power-user features–or edge cases-that customers will only see after using your site for half an hour, or hours!

I joined a company right before they were launching a 1.0 product.  They’d been in a private beta for 3+ months, along with employees heavily using the product.  None of the setup screens had any explanatory text, they just assumed you knew what to do (as everyone who was using the system at this point was).  The company energy was being spent on “after I’ve been using this for several weeks, I noticed this issue….”

When the product rolled out to new users, they were baffled.  At the time, we decided to focus on the first twenty minutes of delight.  Now, I think if there’s a blocker in the first minute and then another blocker, users will just give up.   Challenge yourself to delight a user within 90 seconds.

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