Earlier this month I started The Building in Public Podcast to share my experiences starting a business. The idea was to do documentary style coverage of my startup process starting from zero.
Last week I conducted about a dozen customer development interviews. I asked a few of the people I was interviewing if they would allow me to record it and put it on my podcast and they were kind enough to say yes. So the most recent three episodes of the podcast are recordings of the actual customer development interviews along with my analysis and takeaways.
So far I’m really enjoying podcasting and learning a lot along the way. 7 things have stood out to me going through the customer development process this time around. A few of them as a result of doing it in public via the podcast, and a few just because every experience is always unique.
1. From Nothing to Something
When you have a job you’re stepping into something that already exists and your job is to make sure it keeps existing, or to make it better. There are set processes in place based on what’s been learned previously, and your job is to execute on those processes.
The entrepreneur must figure out what those processes need to be in the first place.
The idea of starting with nothing…and creating something is pretty mind blowing. There was nothing before and now there’s something. Customers had a problem and now they don’t
2. Ambiguity and Uncertainty
The process of going from nothing to something is incredibly ambiguous. Like I said above, you don’t have set processes in place. Lean provides structure, but not an incredibly amount.
Nothing happens unless you make it happen. Do something or nothing will happen. You have to figure out what to do. It takes a lot of motivation and willpower to kind of step out of yourself and create value from scratch.
Another reason things feel ambiguous is because gaining customer insights is not actually building something. You can’t touch it, see it, or interact with it. That doesn’t mean customer development is not incredibly, it’s just sometimes hard to understand. Telling people on the podcast, not to mention friends and family are aren’t as “entrepreneurially savvy,” what I’m doing can make it seem a little ambiguous.
You also don’t know if the customer development process will “work out.” Will anything get validated? Will this all be a waste of time? It’s very possible that it will all be a waste of time, but you have to be willing to accept that risk.
3. Slow But Steady
This time around, I’ve put more effort into taking the customer development process slow.
Interviews are longer, slightly less frequent, and more broad conversations. I’m putting more effort into simply gaining customer insights rather than just validating or invalidating an idea. I really want to find ways to help my customers, in whatever way they find valuable, rather than just in the ways I have in mind. I haven’t used any fast validation tactics or made any hard asks yet.
This Fall I’ve actually been making more effort to move slower in general. Working too much too hard too fast can lead to burnout, like it did after my escapades earlier this year. Moving slow and taking breaks can improve overall productivity. I’m taking time to hear myself think and actually interpret the insights I’m gaining.
More specifically, I’m trying to leave the office before 7pm at least three days per week and take at least one weekend day off completely.
4. Core Needs and Value Propositions
In these initial problem discovery customer development interviews, one of my primary objectives has been to determine what people’s primary goals are and what objectives they believe they need to meet in order to accomplish those goals.
I’m doing this because I want to help them with those primary objectives…not the objectives we think are important…the metrics they think are important. In other words, we might believe people will be healthier if they use our gym, but if people don’t believe that going to the gym will make them healthy, they probably won’t pay for our gym. And they certainly won’t if they don’t want to be healthier in the first place. Even if your product really does helps people find events, if nobody actually cares about finding events they’re still not going to use it. If people want more Twitter followers and I’m helping them find better content that’s not going to work.
Sure we could try to convince them but that’s not something I want to do. I want to supply something that people have demand for. Demand that existsand is validate-able. I’m not saying I don’t want to sell. I know hard sales and marketing will be required even if strong demand exists.
The specific customer development questions I’m asking in order to identify these core needs and value propositions are variations of the below:
- “What are your goals as an author?”
- “What do you need to do in order to achieve those goals?”
Interestingly those needs and objectives have been slightly different than what I expected in some cases.
If people want to sell more books, I want to provide them with a solution that will help them sell more books. If people believe they need to have a bomb ass book cover in order to sell more books, I want to help them with book cover design.
5. Podcasting Helps Me Think
Just like blogging has helped me think through the topic I’m writing about, podcasting is helping me think as well. Knowing that I will have to talk about it keeps more focused and aware of what I’m doing. Editing forces me to listen to the recordings. Preparing for a podcast forces me to go over my notes and form my thoughts.
Podcasting has been more time consuming than I expected it to be, but I’m enjoying it, getting value from it, and I’m getting good feedback from people on it.
6. Product Validation with a Competitor’s Product
I picked up a new customer development tactic. I’m doing product discovery and validation work using competitor products.
We don’t have a product yet. But we found a few other products that are quite similar to what we have in mind. So instead of building our product and then getting feedback on it, I’m getting feedback on the competitors’ products, because our product would have very similar value propositions to theirs, so we would gain similar customer insights putting their product in front of people instead of ours…except that theirs is already built ☺
7. Customer Insights as a Competitive Advantage
It’s one thing to talk about startup ideas, or customer development tactics…and another to talk about actual customer insights. A startup idea on it’s own doesn’t have much value, but actual customer insights that validate an idea do have value. Those insights can be acted on. I’m a little nervous about sharing customer insights publicly. But whatever, I promised to, so I will. What do you think? Should I be nervous about sharing my customer insights? Let me know in the comments.
Tune in to The Building in Public Podcast to listen to a few of the actual interviews I did, and to follow along as I attempt to validate and start a business from scratch. It’s been fun doing both the customer development and the podcast so I’m excited to keep moving forward with it.
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