If you know me and/or have been following my blog, you know that I’m a huge proponent of using customer insights to inform product decision. Customer development, the process of gaining such insights, can be practiced to generate startup ideas, test them, or improve existing ideas or product offerings.
The most common ways to gain insights are in-person interviews and surveys. While I do believe one-on-one, in-person customer interviews are best, the below techniques can be great supplements or starting points to gaining insights.
1. Solve Known and Essential Needs
“At a time when so many internet entrepreneurs are running around Silicon Valley trying to do something no one else has ever done, Williams believes that the real trick is to find something that’s tried and true — and to do it better.” – Evan Williams on product development
Uber is solving for the basic need of transportation. Twitter taps into people’s desire for validation and self-promotion.
People need food and are clearly willing to pay for it. Starting a food or beverage business does have many different challenges, but at least you know there’s precedent.
Distribution is another good one. If you can help a business get more customers, that’s probably going to be valuable because it’s an essential need of any business.
Starting with something that you know people want, instead of a new behavior, will save you some validation time.
2. Do What’s Working
You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel to build a great business. In fact, doing something that’s already being done can have many advantages.
You could replicate something companies are already doing successfully, differentiate in some way, and/or price it lower. If people are already using something, it validates that there’s real demand for it.
Youtube and Netflix have validated that people love consuming video content. Finding a new way to deliver video content would not be far-fetched. Amazon has validated demand for buying stuff online. Selling similar goods in a different way, could be profitable, and many ecommerce startups have proven it.
Facebook was not the first social network. There are countless banks and financial services companies.
There are countless social media consultants out there. Which proves that businesses need help with social media. If you’re qualified enough you could probably do the same thing.
3. Browse Quora
There are several types of content on Quora that can provide valuable customer insights:
Read review pages for products solving similar problems to you. There you can learn about what customers like and dislike about the product. You will get a better understanding of what value propositions resonate with customers. Look for questions like “What have people’s experience with product x been?” for similar insight.
Questions similar to “What’s the hardest part about [problem you’re solving]?” or “What’s the best way to [get value your offering]?” Can help validate your problem and solution hypothesis. Answers here can also help give you new startup ideas or inform you of problems that may be worth solving.
4. Scratch Your Own Itch
Some say the best startup ideas come from solving one’s own problems.
“Why is it so important to work on a problem you have? Among other things, it ensures the problem really exists. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.” – Paul Graham
Be observant of your day at work or outside of work. Look for tasks you find challenging or take a long time. Think of products or services that you wish you had. Solving your own problem may make you more motivated than solving someone else’s. Once you identify a problem you have or a product or service you want, do some customer development to determine if there are others like you who want it too.
When you are your own customer, you can be your own guinea pig, and you can get fast, high quality insights.
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