On Customer Discovery

Thanks to the great people at Startup Gauntlet, entrepreneurs in Athens just finished a 6 week long customer discovery bootcamp at Four Athens. I had the privilege of sitting in on the sessions and was very impressed with the process and the probing questions of the facilitators.

I believe it has led me to hold more valuable “idea” meetings with potential founders. Every week, I meet about 3-5 people in various stages of “idea generation”. These are idea meetings – they don’t have a product, team or fully formed idea, but someone once told them what they were thinking about doing sounded like a great idea. And they tend to be the toughest meetings to navigate.

These meetings can be fraught with personal pride and ego. For many first time founders, ideas are highly personal and tied directly to their self-worth. If you attempt to invalidate an idea (even if it’s not fully thought out), you end up appearing to be personally attacking the person, rather than the idea. Many times, first time founders are convinced they have the best idea ever and it is on the strength of that idea alone that they will be Zuckerberg successful. They just need someone to build it!

How do you remove as much personal feelings from these initial meetings? With a discussion about customer discovery! I am aiming to remove all conversations about what people “feel” and instead asking them to get data – figure out who your customer is, figure out what their problems are and only then do you build a solution. The challenge I have been presenting is to talk to at least 50 potential customers before you do anything. This revised approach to initial meetings still hasn’t seen a lot of repeat visits, but it’s been a better filtering system for giving young entrepreneurs a manageable “test” of whether they really want to proceed.

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