Another one bites the dust.
Sometimes we entrepreneurs get so caught up in our “grand vision”. Riding high on the wave of our “big idea” — falsely believing every human being on earth will one day use our product.
So we spend countless hours locked in our own version of David Packards’ garage. Acting like mad scientists mostly. Cut off from society.
And what are we doing there?
Desperately designing, building and perfecting our killer product to save the world. Laser focused. Nothing going to stop us. Trudging ahead on what every person on the planet needs.
Except we’ve made a huge mistake….
We forgot to check with them first.
You wouldn’t believe the heart wrenching stories I hear. Well meaning entrepreneurs. Stepping out and taking the plunge. Starting their own business and cashing in their 401k to do it. Definitely all-in on their dreams.
Only to lose everything in crushing defeat.
So what happened? How did their dream die a quick death? What is the main reason for their failure?
Simply this: They seriously forgot who they were fighting for. Yes — the “who” being their customer.
Call it “customer validation”. Call it “persona clarity”. Call it whatever you want. But in the end; this truth is as hardcore as gravity. Mess with it — and you’re going down hard.
Entrepreneurs will never succeed without having an intimate understanding of the people they are trying to serve.
In other words — KNOW THY CUSTOMER!
In theory; a ton of ways to go about this “knowing thy customer” business. But I subscribe to these 4 steps which are tattooed on my forehead.
Step 1: You Must Find Them
First; before you dare spend one dime building anything; get out there and find your customers. Do you know who your ideal customer is? Do you have a clue on who would be the best user of your product idea? Do you even care?
Well, you better. The key here is to get out of your holy garage and go in search of your customers before you start building anything. They’re out there. Walking the streets. Trolling the Internet. Hanging out everywhere you look.
And please don’t say to yourself “yes, I will do this once I have something built to show them.” This is a mistake. If this is you — please consider a mind shift. You’ll find many top gurus like Steven Blank; Eric Ries and others beating this mantra like a drum. An entrepreneur needs to really understand how important customer development is.
And yes, before you build anything — go find your customer and hang out with them.
Step 2: You Must Engage Them
Once you’ve found them and are starting to hang out; don’t just sit there. Start engaging them. Start the conversation.
And I don’t mean whipping out your 4-color glossy brochure to talk about your product idea to save the world. No. Have a real conversation. You know, like “hey, how’s it going? What are you working on? What’s up in your life?”
Too many entrepreneurs who agree to do Step #1 — get it wrong on Step #2. They immediately start honing their pitch. They practice in front of the mirror. And go out to their target market with an agenda.
What’s the agenda? Trying as hard as possible to get validation on their pre-conceived idea.
This is not engagement. This is pushing an agenda before you even know what the customer truly needs.
Markets are conversations. Engaging conversations. Friendly, trusting conversations.
So stick your agenda in the corner of your garage. Leave home without it. And go out and engage your audience. Believe me — you’ll start learning something if you do.
Step 3: You Must Learn From Them
Yes, the premise of conversations with potential customers is to learn from them. Ask some open-ended questions and then close that mouth so you can listen. Really hear what they are saying.
One of my favorite questions to ask? “What keeps you up at night in a cold sweat as a business owner?” You wouldn’t believe the answers I get. Stories to blow your mind.
Oh, but wait: You’re targeting stay at home moms; single men in their 20’s; or rocket scientists working at NASA. Doesn’t matter. Just slip your target’s gig at the end of the sentence above. You know, like: “What keeps you up at night in a cold sweat as a rocket scientist from NASA?”
Get ready to discover pure pain. Rolling thunder of words poured out with unmasked emotion.
And why is this good? Because figuring out a way to cure their pain is like finding the golden ticket in the Wonka Bar. Pure utopia.
Step 4: You Must Serve Them
Once you know the pain of your customer; and it becomes pretty clear the same pain is common among many; it’s time to serve.
And not like you think. Don’t run back to that garage of yours, shut the doors behind you and hunker down for 2 years building what you think will cure their pain.
No. If your customers have skinned knees? Start small. Be practical. Get them a band-aid.
Eric Ries calls it a MVP or minimum viable product in his book “The Lean Startup”. Again, call it whatever you want. But the point here is to start serving your target customer in small ways; and sometimes at no cost to them.
Start a blog. Begin sharing helpful content to solve their pain. Start feeding toned down versions of products they might buy. Stick some things out there and see what works. Test different things. Measure the results.
Man — I don’t need to re-write the book here on this stuff. Each one of these steps is covered by a million articles and a thousand books.
So why don’t more entrepreneurs follow this simple strategy? I’m not sure. But boy is it painful when they don’t.
Have you figured it out yet? Do you know what most startup entrepreneurs get wrong?
Yes — it’s the customer silly.