Trying to take on established competitors using their same business model and value proposition is called “attacking a walled city.” It’s important to understand what your customer is actually paying for and find some way to offer a different value proposition.
A common mistake technical entrepreneurs can make is to focus on what’s easy to build, and enter a market with dozens of competitors without thought to differentiation. Or to hope that by making it “free” they can make money by selling ads.
David Telleen-Lawton has more than two decades of customer development. This blog post on the nitty gritty of setting up customer discovery meetings is adapted from his presentation at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference.
Getting better at customer discovery conversations requires preparation, practice, note taking, and follow-up. It can also be tremendously helpful if you can arrange for a partner who can observe, contribute, take notes, and de-brief with you. Even if you are a solo entrepreneur “trade interviews” with another entrepreneur: agree to help them with one of their interviews if they will help you with one of yours. Here is a recent exchange I had during an office hours edited for clarity.
There are no undefended markets. Established markets are characterized by entrenched competitors who have strong brand identify and deep customer relationships. Although Bill Hewlett always strove to “attack the undefended hill,” the reality is that any market worth having is at least lightly defended by the status quo of current alternatives. When scouting a new market you have to determine where you can make a clear contribution that will differentiate your offering from the alternatives currently available–including “doing nothing.”
I led a very interactive session on customer development and pricing for startups on Jan-19-2016 with the Montreal Lean Startup Circle. I have included the slides and their text but they comprise only about 1/6 of the session, the bulk of which was having different entrepreneurs in the audience present their challenges with customer development and pricing and helping them to walk around the situation.
An entrepreneur who succumbs to the illusion of progress does a startup more self-inflicted damage than almost anything else. Working on the wrong things squanders effort and irreplaceable time without gaining the learning needed for the actual efforts required.
If you missed The Nitty Gritty of Setting Up Customer Discovery Meetings by David Telleen-Lawton at The Lean Startup Conference 2015, he shared the down and dirty details of setting up meetings for Customer Discovery. Having set hundreds of B2B and B2C discovery meetings over the years, Telleen-Lawton tells how to reach out and set these meetings.
Customer Discovery interviews are key to discovering whether or not a market exists for your product or service and the skills and questions you hone in the early market will continue to be refined as you scale. This month we focus on how to start them, techniques for cultivating your curiosity so that you learn as much as possible, and some suggestions for how to review and organize your findings on an ongoing basis.
I used to think it was the advice I offered that provided the highest value to clients and friends. I talk to a number of people in different or challenging situations. Recently I have come to appreciate that it’s when I focus and listen to someone explain their situation, asking them questions from a caring perspective to help clarify their understanding, that I often provide the most value.
In Chapter 9 of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Robert Pirsig goes into an extended explanation of the Scientific Method using the metaphor of motorcycle repair. He stresses the value of an experiment log, explaining how to organize it so that you don’t become lost in exploring for solutions to a problem. I have excerpted it below and intermixed some commentary about applying it to early market exploring and debugging new product introduction problems.
It’s OK to solve your own problem first, to be the first customer. This at a minimum gets the idea out of your head and reduced to practice where it can be tested. The trick is to use this basic product to spark further discussions about the problem you solved, no your solution.
Theodore Zeldin gave a series of six lectures on conversation that were collected in slim book called “Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives.” I found it offered a number of insights on what is needed for a serious conversation. And since serious conversation is one of the primary tools for early market exploration and customer development; I have curated a list of nine excerpts I think entrepreneurs will find useful.
My interview with Gabriel Weinberg was originally published Sep-8-2010. He was doing research for what became his fantastic book Traction. We talked for the better part of an hour and a half and I can remember he kept returning in different ways to what was needed to close your first dozen enterprise customers.
I got to know Edith Harbaugh (@edith_h) when she was moderating the Lean Startup Circle Group and published two guest blog posts by her: “It’s Your Execution, Not Your Idea” and “Managing Email Conversations With Customers.” I also invited her to take part in a webinar on Innovator’s DNA: Experimenting Skill. During the roundtable conversation she mentioned some lessons learned from a bicycle trip across the United States–I thought to myself, anyone willing to bike across the country is ready to become a technology entrepreneur. So when she emailed me that she had co-founded LaunchDarkly I reached out to interview her. What follows is an edited transcript.
3D printing is overhyped and its implications are not well understood. It will be twenty plus years before there is a 3D printer in most homes due to limitations of the cost of the machine, material, obtaining software and learning how to use the software. Other fundamentally problem that prevent 3D printers being adapted by the public are to understanding of design, physics, and material science and a change of behavior of making things at home.
Entrepreneurs who limit themselves to what they could learn if their prospects lacked the power of speech adopt what I call a veterinary marketing model. It’s not a viable approach to market exploration.
Any innovation effort is a painful struggle punctuated by false starts and dead ends. Your efforts are met with lack of interest even when a basic invention is working and active resistance when it starts to replace the tried and true. Like any childbirth the trick is managing the pain long enough to deliver.
Normally if you are not getting traction, if you are not able to reliably set and hit goals, then it’s a good idea to narrow your focus and take smaller steps. Zoom in for traction. This is a good rule of but you may need to take a step back and look at yourself as an actor in the system (or contributor to the problem).
Trust is built over repeated interactions between people. If your business requires long term relationships then you have to make sure that investments in automation are not deployed in a way that undercut your ability to have real conversations. Unfortunately, some uses of email automation tools are pushing sales conversations into the “Uncanny Valley” because they strive to simulate–but miss–a genuine personalized touch.