By Marylene Delphis @mddelphis
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits was published last July. It is a short sequel to a part of Steve Blank‘s The Four Steps to the Epiphany (2005) and is prefaced by him. It starts with a truism that can’t be repeated enough, and that every single entrepreneur should display on a banner in his/her office: “Startups fail because they didn’t develop their market, not because they didn’t develop their product.” In short, if you have created a product that people don’t need, you are doomed to fail. So create a product that people actually want, and you’ll have a better chance of succeeding. That’s ultimately what “customer development” means: it “is a four-step frame- work to discover and validate that you have identified the market for your product, built the right product features that solve customers’ needs, tested the correct methods for acquiring and converting customers, and deployed the right resources to scale the business.”
So get out of your office, test your “core Customer-Problem-Solution assumptions,” and check if users are willing to “pay” (otherwise forget about what you have in mind). Sell something: not the ground-breaking shebang you fantasized about before putting your neck out there, but what the authors call a “Minimum Viable Product (MVP),” a product with the fewest number of features. In the end, the more systematic you are in customer development, the more likely you are to minimize the risk of chasing rainbows, misspending your credit line or your VC’s LPs money.
This is a useful book. A little bit too jargony at times to my taste, but if you feel too terrestrial in understanding that the minute you start a company you must be sales-oriented and trying to make it clear to your development team, the book will make you feel better. Regardless of the words, though, one thing is clear: don’t try to create windmills with wigs, as I said in a former post. Continuously test what you are doing with real customers to continuously improve — and remain “lean” i.e. mean and frugal, until you have analyzed, defined, and segmented the market that will materialize your dreams of success.
Each author has his own blog: