Category: Customer Discovery

“Things are more like they are now than they ever were before.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

To me this quote is about reluctance to change and looking back to the past.

The one competitor everyone has the is customer’s decision to do nothing.  If I am actively managing a problem of some kind, it means I have researched potential solutions, chosen one and I invested time and energy into implementing that solution.  That means the next solution has to outweigh the time and effort I put into my current solution; plus the time and energy to learn something new.  Hence my decision to do nothing.

This is why you need to talk to me, find out how I am currently solving the problem, and understand what would entice me to try something new.

“The best interviews are when the other party does most of the talking.” – Shawn Carson

When validating your value proposition with customers, its tempting to talk all about your product and what it will do and how great it will be.

When meeting people at a social mixer, it’s tempting to talk about your accomplishment and your new startup and how it’s going.

When giving a presentation, especially when you have the chance to receive feedback, it’s tempting to defend your ideas or try to better explain what you tried (and failed) to say.

Here’s the thing…

You are just like the rest of us on the planet.  You like to hear yourself talk.  But when you realize all the valuable information you can get by simply shutting up and letting the other person tell you things, all of the sudden your world will open up in ways you never imagined. The other person wants to talk as much as you do.  But they are giving you something you can’t get from your perspective;  their perspective.

The customer will tell you want’s important them.  You don’t have to…

The other person will tell you what they do for a living and how they might be able to help you, if you simply show interest in them and regard their business card with respect.

That “encourager” who hears your pitch for the first time, will tell you directly if you didn’t make something clear.  You’ve heard your pitch before and they haven’t.  First impressions ARE important.  If they didn’t get it, that’s your fault.

Shhhhhhh….  Listen…..



“I’d rather be ashes than dust.” – Jack London

Ashes result from entropy – the transfer of energy from one form to another.  It is the result of activity.  The consumption of resources and fuel.

Dust accumulates from inactivity.  It is attracted to things that sit still… for a long time.

Steve Blank says that startups fail because of bad business models.  This is true.  But there is another reason.

A lot of great ideas sit on a shelf and die of inactivity.  They accumulate dust.

Failure should be process of learning.  If you’re going to fail, let it be because you tried everything possible and determined there is no market for your idea.  Then pivot.

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” – Henry Ford

The most valuable slide in a company pitch is the traction slide.  It shows that people want what you have because you have sold it.

A lot of startups try to raise money before they get traction.  It’s tough to do.  Nobody wants to invest in “what if?”

If you can’t create a traction slide because you don’t have any, figure out how to get it.  At least talk to 100 customers and document what would solve their pain.

“Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.” – Derek Sivers

The business plan will NOT convince the customer to buy your product.  You don’t get to decide.  They do.  The customer discovery process will help you start with the most important things first but the only way to really know is to start selling something…quickly and as cheaply as possible.

Read “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers

“The trouble with success is, you can’t stop doing what made you successful.” – Dan Wieden

I love my records and still play them.  They still work fine and sound much better than MP3 files.

But markets change.  Technologies change.  Economies change.  What works now likely will not work later and the rate of change today is maddening.

The customer discovery process never ends.  It’s the only way to stay on top of what is changing.  The next thing may not be as good as the last but it doesn’t matter if people stop buying the best in favor of the hip or more convenient.

Talk to your customers every week.  Plug that learning into your plans for what’s next.

Dan Wieden was a panelist at the 2013 SSTI Conference

“Gold is everywhere but it’s very rare” – Barry Goss

Understanding customer value is like panning for gold.  Of course once in a while you find a nugget of consequence but most of the time you have to collect a little dust here and there.  After a while, it adds up.

You can’t just ask 10 people what they think about your idea and then go raise funding.  If it were my money, I’d want evidence that you have interviewed a hundred or more.    Better yet, sell a prototype to a hundred or more.

Gold pans are cheap… 10 bucks or so.  And it’s designed to do the one most important thing, pan for gold.

So it is with your prototype.  Make it fast, make it cheap and give it to lots of people.

That’s where the gold is!

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosbey


It’s interesting how often people predict the doom of Apple because of the iPhone.  Every version had quirks and bugs and yet we are on the 6th (?) version and Apple continues to set the standard.

Startups have plenty of “advisors” and critics.  The community is being overrun now with entrepreneurial service providers, accelerators, mentoring programs and the like.  Angels groups are growing and now we have crowd funding for investors.  All of these interests have their value in helping to shape entrepreneurs for success.

But there’s really only one measure…

Are your customers buying your product?

If the advice you’re getting does not point you to that, then it’s bad advice and a likely key to failure.

“What you think is going to happen in the marketplace almost never does.” – Chuck Witkowski

There is only one way to know 100% how the market will react to your product. That is to get in the game and sell something. Market research and customer discovery, at best, can only hedge your bet.

So don’t waste your time and limited cash perfecting your product. Sell your prototype and then react to the feedback.

Save your powder for your pivots.