The One Customer Development Question You Need to Stop Asking Immediately

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“They said they would use it, but then when I built it and showed it to them, they didn’t” an entrepreneur told me. “I’m starting to lose faith in customer development because I don’t know if what people are telling me is true.”

It is very true that what people say and what they do are two different things. Actions speak louder than words. That is why customer development is about more than listening to people’s words. We need to ask the right customer development questions and run the right experiments.

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Of all the customer development questions to ask, the one you should stop asking is “would you use this product?”

People don’t want to hurt your feelings. When you ask this question, you set your customers up to give you a false positive.

The average person does not want to to shut you down and tell you your idea sucks. They want you to keep living your dream. They probably think that’s the nice thing to do. Unfortunately it’s actually only hurting you by sending you down the wrong path.

A better question to ask is “will you give me $$ for this product? (like right now).”


Enter: The one dollar test.

The problem the entrepreneur I described at the beginning of this post faced was that his customers were essentially telling him lies. Pre-selling is a great way to avoid this problem.

Even if you don’t plan to monetize your users, charging them, even just one dollar, is a great way to validate that you’re truly solving a problem and delivering value. If you don’t plan to monetize your “users” directly, you’re probably going to be monetizing by charging someone who wants access to your users. Therefore you need users. If you don’t have a product users want, they won’t use it, and you won’t have users. If people are willing to pay, even $1, it indicates that the product is truly solving a problem and delivering value.

When you ask someone to pay for your value proposition – when the proverbial rubber hits the road – you start hearing things that you wouldn’t have heard otherwise. They may have been telling you how awesome your startup idea is before, but when you ask them to put their money where their mouth is, they may start hesitating, and *really* thinking about whether not they actually need your product. They may start telling you about what criticisms they have about your solution, or that they don’t even have the problem to begin with. Those are important insights to gain!

Get customers to (literally) put their money where their mouth is, by charging them (even just $1). If someone isn’t willing to fork over even $1 for something, the cost of half of a cup of coffee, it’s probably not of much value to them. Conversely, if someone is willing, able, and eager to give you money, potentially even knowing you don’t have a product yet, you get validation that you’re truly delivering value to them.



If you are going to ask this question, “would you use this product?”, don’t take the answer to is not validation. If you are going to ask this question, use it only to gain insights.

The “yes” or “no” component of the answer you will get is not nearly as valuable as the “why” or “why not” component that comes after it.

Also remember, customer development is not a silver bullet. Doing a handful interviews will definitely not guarantee your success. It’s to provide guidance on an otherwise dark, long, and expensive process of figuring out what people want.



Key Takeaways

  • What customers say and what they do are two different things

  • When it comes to customer development, “doing” is validation, “saying” is not

  • “Would you use this product?” can lead to false positives

  • Get real validation by getting customers to put their money where their mouth is