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The Customer as a Development Partner

Develop Your Product/Service Around What The Customer Wants To Pay For
I have been mentoring and coaching aspiring entrepreneurs for a few years and there are often two big problems with their perspective:

  1. They assume their idea is really valid and don’t bother to verify the existence of the problem or the need for a solution with other people.
  2. They develop the features of the product or service based only on their opinion of the problem and solution required.

Both problems are related, of course. The fact is many starter-uppers get an idea and build their product full-blown because they are so excited. One of my pet peeves is when developers spend 90% of the time developing the product when they should spend it developing the customer.

You are NOT your customer; only the customer is the customer. It does’t matter how passionately you believe in your product or service, only how other people feel about it. If you are the only person who:

  1. Has the problem
  2. Urgently needs a solution
  3. Sees your product/service as a compelling solution

…you have a problem.

Unless a LOT of people agree with the three critical statements above, you really don’t have a product or service to build a business around.

Enough negativity, already. How do you make sure you are putting together a business based on something people with actually buy?  You ask them! Duh.  This is called Customer Investigation and it’s a process of interviewing a lot of people who roughly fit your idea of the typical customer to verify that other people actually have the problem, urgently need a solution, and find your product/service to be compelling. Until you do this, you really don’t know how to design a successful product, where the pain is greatest and which features they will find most appealing.

Treat your prospective customer like a development partner. They will tell you what they will pay for. And don’t build the full-blown product until you establish the Minimum Viable Product, the fewest features that solve the most impactful problems, the ones with the highest degree of pain or need for gain.

In Startup Assembly Manual, there’s a seven-step process to this investigation process that will insure actionable feedback. It starts with establishing a non-threatening contact and uses solution illustrative devices (mock-ups or prototypes) to transfer the value proposition, then involves a method of analyzing and tweaking and re-presenting the benefit statements to make sure you understand where the customer is coming from and where you should be going.

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