According to Steve Blank customer development is “the process startups use to quickly iterate and test each element of their business model.” The idea is that dreaming up features for your product is all well and good until faced with the reality of a customer: what you think the market needs and what the market actually needs are two different things. As an entrepreneur, the best way to build a product is in conjunction with potential customers whereby you have a tight feedback loop and short development cycle from the beginning.
Here are a few things to keep in my mind with customer development in startups:
- Start by casting a wide net of potential customers and talk to as many as you can with the goal of narrowing the focus dramatically within a short period of time
- Pick potential customers that best align with your opinion of the market and are willing to help give feedback and be part of the process
- Schedule calls at least monthly, if not every two weeks with these potential customers to show them new functionality and get input
- Ask for a commitment from the potential customer to use the product in their environment as soon as they see value (of course, they are helping guide the development of the product so they should naturally see value at some point)
Customer development is hard especially when you can spend time adding product features and get instant gratification seeing new functionality work. Stop, pick up the phone, and talk to potential customers before you add more functionality the market doesn’t want. Prioritize time for customer development and make it a critical part of the startup culture.
What else? What are some other thoughts on customer development in startups?