I’ve heard many people recently making case against using customer development and lean principles. Some encouraging being a “visionary.”
The most commonly cited examples I hear are Apple and Twitter. “You could have never validated that people would want to share 140 characters over a network through customer interviews.” I do largely agree, but I think that misses a few key points:
1. Understand the risk
You have no idea how many startups I’ve seen or heard about who work on building their “vision” for months and months if not years, only to realize that no one wants what they’ve got.
Yes, you might be able to scratch the right lottery ticket and build a product that people love, but it’s very risky to go down that path. Think about how many Apples and Twitters there are in the world vs how many have failed.
The risk is fine for some people, and of course can work out, I’d just be conscious of it.
2. Consider your goals
Do you want to have confidence that you’re spending time and money on something that can be a business, or do you just want to build cool products and see what happens? Either one is fine, just be honest about what you want. Personally I’d rather “stack the cards in my favor” by doing some customer development before spending a whole bunch of time and money on something that turns out not to be viable.
3. Customer development is not a silver-bullet
Customer development still does require creative thinking and some “visionary” like abilities. It’s rare (though it can happen) for a customer to tell you exactly what they want and have that turn out to be a great business. You still need to internalize the insights you’ve gained through customer interviews and make decisions about how to move forward. Reading a book like The Lean Startup makes it sound easy to identify a problem, solve it, and build a valuable company, but in practice it’s really, really hard.
Conclusion. There is no one specific process to start a company or guarantee success, but you should consider your goals and risk tolerance.