Time and time again I’m advising founders on the cat and mouse game of customers vs. funding. You know the rat race: investors want to see customers… you have some but seemingly not enough… you’re advised that you need to talk to more customers to validate what you’re doing… you have and yet…
Something is amiss.
An article I really want you to read is 12 Steps to Startup Validation. It explores the process of validation beyond talking to customers and establishes foremost whether or not you even have an opportunity available to investors through some tried and true methods such as market research. But many of the techniques therein require experience, industry insight, and market perspective that best comes from having worked within. Begging a question, from where can get you such perspective?
Talk to Experienced Professionals First
Frankly, the Lean Startup cult is getting old.
Now, I realize I just pissed off 75% of those of you reading this. How dare I challenge the very bible upon which our new economy is built! And yet, if you turn to some fairly notable and successful entrepreneurs such as Ben Horowitz or Keith Rabois, who have in varying ways pointed out that the best evidence of a successfull Lean startup is maybe a $50MM exit, following what customers want is how to die slowly. The most successful and significant ventures have vision and introduce something new to customers who don’t know what they want.
From Fat to Maximum Viable, there are almost constantly adverse reactions to Lean; almost as though such reactions were warranted. How are customers steering us wrong?
Think about customer validation for a moment. Unless you are an experienced market researcher with years of training on how to ask questions so as not to bias the answers, feedback is biased. What will some potential customers tell you if you ask them? What some potential customers might want/do.
What will you learn from exposing your minimum viable product to the world? How a handful of visitors react to your minimally viable product.
Know your market, what it wants, how it works, and where it’s going
Customers aren’t wrong but know that they aren’t right
Study industry market reports, use Google to dig up news and trends, look at key word data (yes search) to analyze how demands are shifting, etc. Most successful and funded ventures are NOT the result of experimenting with ideas to validate what customers want but rather the result of founders and teams that know the space in which they’re working.
Get such people on YOUR team. Talk to them before talking to potential customers. Customers aren’t wrong but know that they aren’t right – they don’t have the perspective you need on how to actually build a viable business developing for them what they claim/think they want. Hire people who know what they’re doing. Attract industry executives and thought leaders to your advisory board or as mentors. Heck, please, at least start with LinkedIn, find people who know your space, and ask them.