Customer Development, Part 1

by Jul 26, 2021

Entrepreneur Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, once wrote, “A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

A critical way that startups mitigate that uncertainty, or risk, is by putting customers at the center of the business. As much as we think of startups as being about great technology and ideas, the most successful startups are human-centered. They make customer development—understanding their ideal customer and meeting that customer’s needs—a top priority. Customers don’t care about your product. They care about their problems. Until your product solves their problems, you won’t achieve product-market fit. Put another way, products are not successful until they find their market, and markets are made up of people. So the best way to understand your product’s market is to engage with potential customers.

When you build a human-centered startup, you can better identify market opportunities, learn how to make inroads into the market, and quickly gather feedback to make your product better. The iterative process of taking an idea, testing it with customers, and changing it until something great emerges is how you accelerate your startup’s growth.

The Process

  • Aha! moment of inspiration — This is your big idea! It doesn’t have to be fully formed yet. It just needs to be something you’re passionate about pursuing as a business opportunity.
  • Talk to customers — One of the best ways to reduce risk and build a business that people want is by engaging with potential customers to gain data and knowledge around their needs.
  • Gain insight — After you’ve engaged with potential customers, you better understand what their needs are and how your idea meets those needs.
  • Prototype — Prototyping allows you to test your product or service quickly and cheaply. You’re taking the knowledge and insights you’ve gained from engagement with customers and putting them to the test.
  • Test — Now it’s time to get your idea in the customer’s hands to receive more feedback to gain deeper knowledge and understanding.

Feedback is an opportunity, not marching orders. Users can provide information and insights, but it’s up to you to filter what’s helpful and take action on it. At some point, you’ll have to take a leap and start building your product, even if you don’t have it all figured out.

In part 2, we’ll look at a framework for rapidly testing your business idea.

Go Deeper
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley
Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love by Jon Kolko