Category: Customer Discovery

“Good performance is about what you take in, not what you put out.” – Livingston Taylor

Two things are relevant to this quote:

First, customer discovery – Talking to customers about their problems is about listening, not talking.  It’s tempting to share your bright idea for a new product but as soon as you do, you change the conversation and you won’t get all the information you need.

The other thing is pitching.  If you are raising money, you will pitch at least a couple dozen times.  It’s easy to memorize the slides and give the same speech every time.  But you need to be aware of how your audience responds to each point you make.  Did they laugh at the opening joke or not?  Are you getting head nods when you describe your technology?  Do they ask questions about the business model?  If you are not getting a reaction, then you need to work on the slides or the narrative or the delivery…or all three

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson


“Anything could happen. For instance, a fez.” – Dr. Who

Customer Discovery can lead you to some unexpected destinations.  One of the companies we work with started life as a really high tech device to monitor radiation in research environments.  While they were trying to figure out how to build the device at scale, they determined there was not a good way to document technical specifications in a way that was easy to update.  So they created their own solution and found out the market need for their creation was huge compared to researchers monitoring radiation.  So they had a big pivot and became a software company.

When you focus on solving customer problems, anything could happen.

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

Listen to your customers.  They will tell you what they like and don’t like.  Sometimes you will be tempted to tell them they are wrong.  They may very well be but listen to them anyway.  You will most certainly learn something.  If it’s a bad comment, you may have a new hypothesis to test with other customers and you may find an opportunity for a new feature or product.

The best customers are those who care enough to interact with the product and the company that makes it.  Listening to them either dote or rant provides that opportunity.

By the way, don’t listen to the media critics.  They say they represent the customers but they really want to see you fail.  Stick with the customers.


BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“To win in a market with a new product or service, you have to go after a market that has significant market pain, a pervasive problem, and a willingness to pay for a fix.” – Rob Adams

This one phrase sums up the customer discovery process.  Many startups begin life as the founder’s passion for making a change.  Creating a new gadget to solve a specific problem is the purview of the inventor.  Inventors are wired to iterate and redesign until they are happy with their invention.  This often uses up their resources and capital until there’s not much money left to start the company.

If you have entrepreneurial aspirations, then you need to determine if your cool new gadget idea is something people want and will pay money to acquire.  Do this as early as possible so your design is informed by what the market wants and not what you think they want.

 Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘EUREKA! (I found it!)’ but ‘That’s funny…'” – Isaac Asimov

Nylon, sticky notes, the microwave oven, and velcro were all discovered while the inventors were looking for something else.  Perhaps the important questions to ask are “I wonder, what if…, ” or “I wonder why that is…”

This is why we like to say that innovation is not about invention.  Most often, it is about solving a common problem with a unique application of an existing idea.  Rather than viewing experimental failure as an impediment to proving the theory, perhaps it’s better to understand why it failed in the first place.  Then be open to go down the path that opens before you.

In the customer discovery process, this is where pivots come from.  You test a value proposition with customers, typically to find out your original idea does not resonate.  It’s important to understand why because the answer may lead you to a bigger, more important problem to solve.

Thanks to Louisa Rispoli for this quote in her email footer…


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Interviewing customers is not what most people get out of bed every morning dying to do…, – Rob Adams

“…but in the end, it’s the utlimate way to produce value in the market and it is a sign of an execution mentality.”

We talk plenty about the importance of the customer discovery process and Rob Adam’s quote from “If You Build It, Will They Come?” is dead on.

But I’d like to focus on the last eight words, “it is a sign of an execution mentality”.  This is subtle but it’s really very important.  Investors are a skeptical bunch and most tell you, all other things equal, that they invest in the management team.  The question in the back of the mind is always, “Can this person pull it off?”

The ability to show results and data from a well documented customer discovery process is a huge validating activity that shows you know how to get things done.   But it also shows you know how to do hard things that aren’t fun but very import to the process.

“Customers don’t want their money back. They want a product that works properly.” – Dan Burton

Yes, we preach about not delivering the perfect product, but the product that is good enough.

This is not a question of quality but one of feature selection.  Your product has to solve a problem for the customer in a reliable way and it really helps if the customer enjoys the experience.  Simple design and singularity of purpose are the goal here.  If you nail your value proposition through a diligent customer discovery process, you will learn what features and functions are most important and you can concentrate on delivering those with quality and elegance.

Look for agnostics, ignore atheists” – Guy Kawasaki

In customer discovery, and in marketing your product, you will encounter people who are passionate about their existing solution.  That’s ok.  Loyalties develop and it’s really hard to break that relationship.  It will lead you to competition bashing and when you sling mud, everybody gets muddy.

You are better off seeking those who are still searching for a solution.  Maybe the existing solution is too expensive or maybe it is too loaded down with useless features.  Maybe it’s a different audience all together.

Southwest Airlines went to smaller cities and offered scaled down services for a specific type of traveler.  They flew one type of aircraft and made you pick your seat when you sat down.  They balanced with with a superior customer experience. Then they changed air travel all together.

Read “Reality Check” by Guy Kawasaki

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“You need to allocate 60 days effort before you start building your product and 10% of your budget to get the Market Validation work done.” – Rob Adams

This is bold advice from “If You Build It Will They Come?”  and it flows in parallel with the customer discovery process.  Rob Adams just put some numbers on it.

Understanding your value proposition and market is important.  So important that Adams recommends two full months of effort to nail it down.  Allocating budget means get out of the office and talk to people.  You can’t Google your way through customer discovery.  Go to trade shows.  Talk to industry experts and leaders in your market segments.  You may consider buying a market research study from one of the leading research firms.  They aren’t cheap.

Doing this before you develop the product helps reduce the risk that you make something no one wants to buy.

It’s cheap insurance.

Read “If You Build It, Will They Come?” by Rob Adams


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Interviewing customers is not what most people get out of bed every morning dying to do…” – Rob Adams

“…but in the end, it’s the utlimate way to produce value in the market as it is a sign of an execution mentality.”

There’s a lot packed into this sentence.  Beyond the obvious message of the importance of talking to customers, and the fact that no one likes to do it, there is a more subtle message that is very important.

Investors are interested in traction as a validation of your business model.  But before you have 1,000 visitors to your web site a day, there is the time when you don’t have a product and you don’t have customers.  But as Rob Adams preaches, that is the optimal time to validate the market through customer interviews.

It takes discipline and effort; two things that are going to be of interest to investors.  If you can demonstrate from hundreds of customer interviews that you have a minimally viable product, you not only validate your business model but you show you have the discipline and execution mindset to get the job done.

This is an intangible that all stakeholders look for but there is not a standard slide in the deck for execution mentality.  It comes from evidence of how you conduct business, how you research your markets and how you validate your value proposition.

Read “If You Build It, Will They Come?” by Rob Adams

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson