Steve Blank wrote a terrific book called The Four Steps to the Epiphany, where he talks about the Customer Development methodology. Basically what it says is that you’ve got to start building from customers while you search for a profitable and scalable business model.
Without getting to much into detail, this methodology can be divided between two phases: search and execution, but for the purpose of this post I’m just gonna focus on the first one, search.
Let me start with how Steve Blank defines what a startup is:
“A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”
This is way different than what a traditional Product Development would say. Because when you start with a product and try to push it to the market you’re not searching, you’re executing on day one. And that’s a terrible mistake. It might work, but that’s rarely the case.
So how do you find a marketable product?
You start talking with people, and look for patterns that would lead you to a problem a customer (with money) wants to get solved.
Notice that I’ve said talking with, not talking to. Big difference.
By nature, the first instinct of an entrepreneur is to try to sell her idea to the customer. But almost always, the world view of the entrepreneur doesn’t match with reality. That’s why it’s critical for startups success to start talking with customers on day one.
Once you talk with a hundred customers you can see patterns that you wouldn’t see otherwise. Thus, you get ahead of startups that follows the traditional product development process, because you found a problem a customer wants to get solved.
Is it easy? Of course it’s not. But the challenge here is not to find the people to talk with or coming up with ideas. The real challenge is to listen. Yeap…
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” —Epictetus
When you get out of the building and start talking with people, the goal is not to try to sell what you’ve already got. That comes later. Your first task is to listen, truly listen to what the customer is trying to tell you.
And this is super tough.
The answer is out there, awaiting to be discovered. That’s the hard part.