Customer development–discovery driven sales–requires that you first understand the customer’s problem then present a vision of a solution. If that is acceptable you can proceed to a demonstration that provides technical proof of value.
An infographic with some key questions to consider when developing a new product. Originally suggested in “Breakthrough Thinking From Inside the Box” by Coyne, Clifford, and Dye in HBR December 2007.
Frank Robinson’s Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept as first articulated in 2001. An MVP is the result of product development and customer development proceeding in parallel, which Frank Robinson called “synchronous development.”
Some thoughts on the half-fast entrepreneur with half-vast experience. Any resemblance to the author or the reader is purely coincidental.
Recently, we worked with a startup on team building as they wrangled with the rapid growth of their business. They needed bring on new team members and wanted them to be productive and effective as quickly as possible. Working with the leadership team we reviewed Bruce Tuckman’s four stages of team development.
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.
Randy Cadieux, founder of V-Speed LLC, started to post some interesting articles in the Lean Startup Circle Group on LinkedIn in June of this year, in particular his “Working on the Edge of Failure.” High reliability organizations have a lot to teach startups so I decided to reach out to him to compare notes. This led to some great conversations and a recorded sessions that we have transcribed into this edited transcript–with some hyperlinks added for context.
Much has been written about a startup making a pivot in direction after Eric Ries first coined the term
in a 2009 blog post “Pivot don’t Jump to a New Vision.” The word pivot has attracted almost as much wordplay as the word lean. What follows is a short list of good and bad reasons to pivot.
What seems natural, artificial, or supernatural is a function of familiarity. Nature is the background or context for innovation. The challenge is that we live in a world and culture formed by millennia of innovation so that some incredibly advanced technologies seem natural. The difference between technology and magic is not that one works more reliably than the other but that technology is part of the adjacent possible–seemingly impossible but comprehensible. Magic breaks our existing paradigm and is initially incomprehensible. As entrepreneurs we need to present our innovations as technology not magic.
This weekend I attended the Bay Area Maker Faire 2015. New this year was a Startup Pavilion with about 20 companies selling their products and looking for early adopters. Through out the show, I also found many startups looking for support for their kickstarter campaigns.
Excerpts from Paul Grahams’ October 2014 essay “Before the Startup” with commentary interspersed. This essay is in some ways less self-confident than many of his earlier ones. He seems to recognize more explicitly the limits of his ability to offer advice that entrepreneurs in the Y Combinator portfolio–or entrepreneurs applying to Y Combinator–will actually follow. The primary point he hammers home is the need to focus on customers and to realize that a startup a significant multi-year commitment.
A documentary on entrepreneurship as a calling that I found very compelling was “The Call of the Entrepreneur” produced by the Acton Institute. It addresses both practical and spiritual aspects of entrepreneurship from the point of view of three very different entrepreneurs:
- Brad Morgan, a dairy farmer in Evart, Michigan who transforms a failing farm into a successful dairy and compost company.
- Frank Hanna, a merchant banker in New York City who explains how entrepreneurship transforms the economy into a positive sum game.
- Jimmy Lai who grew up in Communist China and then Hong Kong, emigrating to New York to found retail and media companies.
Busyness won’t build your business, it closes off your creativity and your luck. Anticipate, or at least acknowledge, missed deadlines and commitments: triage or re-negotiate.
I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.
Tim Kreider “The Busy Trap“
It’s a terrible feeling when you are behind in your work. What might have been good if delivered early and adequate if on time is now insufficient. So you have to keep raising the bar the later you get. Understanding what is critical to accomplish means making hard choices, and just as when you won’t admit a loss on a stock because you haven’t sold it, you can console yourself that you are still working on that deliverable and it’s just a little late.
“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else–we are the busiest people in the world.”
Hurry creates tunnel vision. It closes off your ability to notice, create, and act upon chance opportunities. It makes you less lucky. It’s always a good idea to maintain focus and finish the critical tasks that are on your list for today or that you have committed to a customer or a partner. But if your list is longer than about six hours of work and you are like most entrepreneurs I know, many won’t get done and you should at least prioritize.
Mark to Market
I have a very long to do list that contains goals for the day, week, month, quarter, year, and next year. Sometimes I have to mark tasks [d] for dropped instead of [x] for done. The sooner I do that so that I can finish the critical ones the less I have hanging over me. I don’t mean to make this sound easy or even straightforward but consider the following to catch up and be creative again:
- Drop tasks that may have been a good idea at one time. Put them on a “good idea” list you can revisit in six months time.
- Explicitly de-commit or re-negotiate a new deadline if you know you are going to miss one or you have already missed it.
- If it’s possible: do a partial job early, send a draft, send an outline, timebox for 20 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour and get a small chunk done and ask for feedback. The worst outcome is to be late and have an incorrect idea of what’s expected or needed.
Related Blog Posts
Don’t waste time painting Tom Sawyer’s fence: proving someone wrong is actually a poor source of motivation. It’s OK to ignore conventional wisdom, but don’t get trapped into doing someone else’s work (or building their platform) just to prove them wrong. Build something instead of trying to win an argument.
Some advice from a couple of founders that ran successful crowdfunding campaigns: Matt Oscamou, CEO of Frontier Bites, Mark Palaima, Distinguished Engineer at Avagent, and Noah Dentzel, CEO of Nomad Goods.
I will be a mentor at the B2B Startup Weekend June 6-8 in San Francisco.
Are you a startup founder who wants to make an objective assessment of your new product idea? Schedule a no-cost, no-obligation MVP Readiness Review. You can also use the session to prepare for customer discovery interviews or to debrief on interviews you have conducted to glean further insights.
Peter Cohan from Second Derivative offers some of the best sales demo/pitch training and hands-on learning that we have seen. So we are honored to offer these interactive workshops to startups.
Here is the upcoming schedule:
|March 5&6, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
|May 21&22, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
|October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
The difference between a hypothesis and an assumption is that the first is normally explicit and the second implicit. A hypothesis is what is being tested explicitly by an experiment. An assumption is tested implicitly. By making your assumptions as well as your hypotheses explicit you increase the clarity of your approach and the chance for learning.