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Customer Discovery for Early-Stage Startups

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So, you have an idea for a product and you’ve sketched out the business model. Who’s going to use it? And what do they need it to do? There’s only one way to find out -- leave the building. Before writing a single line of code, there are a myriad of ways to evaluate whether your idea is actually something real people want. In the Customer Discovery stage, you’ll begin the process of interviewing, user testing, prototyping, and closing your first sale.

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Created for a presentation at the Smarter in the City tech accelerator in Roxbury, MA.

This deck covers what I'd consider 'Phase 1,' ie. user research prior to having a testable prototype (at which point you'll jump into Phase 2, user validation and testing).

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Customer Discovery for Early-Stage Startups

  1. 1. FIND THE WANT CUSTOMER DISCOVERY
  2. 2. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Hi, I’m Liz.
  3. 3. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack
  4. 4. Grow what you eat.
  5. 5. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack KNOW THE USER MAKE THEM HAPPY What I do:
  6. 6. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack KNOW THE USER | Data, research, user testing. Pursue a substantiated understanding of the way a person uses, lives with and perceives the experience we create. MAKE THEM HAPPY What I do:
  7. 7. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack What I do: KNOW THE USER MAKE THEM HAPPY | Product design, management. Work across disciplines + departments to make that experience entirely positive.
  8. 8. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Three years ago, Grove was just a really complicated idea we weren’t sure anyone wanted.
  9. 9. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack “Am I building something people want?”
  10. 10. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Probably not 😬
  11. 11. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack And that’s totally fine. Start testing and revising your hypothesis now.
  12. 12. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Product market fit takes time.
  13. 13. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Where can you create value?
  14. 14. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Customer validation also proves your idea is worthy of investment. Where can you create value?
  15. 15. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack
  16. 16. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack TEST THE PROBLEM TEST THE SOLUTION Customer Discovery
  17. 17. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack TEST THE PROBLEM | User research, market research. Test your understanding of the customer’s needs. TEST THE SOLUTION Customer Discovery
  18. 18. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Customer Discovery: TEST THE PROBLEM TEST THE SOLUTION | Prototyping, user testing. Test that your solution solves the customer’s need that you identified.
  19. 19. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack It’s a cycle.
  20. 20. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Methods for Customer Discovery PART ONE: TEST THE PROBLEM
  21. 21. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Before you write a line of code.
  22. 22. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack What problem are you solving? ?
  23. 23. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 1 | Leave the Building 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have 5 | Poach from Competitors
  24. 24. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Leave the building. REMEMBER THIS #1 Thanks to: Steve Blank
  25. 25. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 1 | Leave the Building OBJECTIVES Test my value proposition (am I building a thing people care about?) Identify pain points + opportunities in my assumed market segment.
  26. 26. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Things you need: 1. A list of questions. 2. A hypothesis you’re willing to change. 1 | Leave the Building
  27. 27. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Things you don’t need: 1. Understanding of the customer’s problem. 2. Existing customers. 1 | Leave the Building
  28. 28. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack At ModCloth, we talk to people when we first have an idea. At this phase, our goal is to understand customers’ current problems around this idea and how they deal with an issue we’re trying to solve. MODCLOTH 1 | Leave the Building
  29. 29. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Google’s answer for the complexity of AdWords was to hire 2,000 account managers to help people use the platform. Pratt said one of the main reasons for user confusion is that the terminology used by the various platforms is wildly different. ADHAWK
  30. 30. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Rica Elysée founded Boston Naturals, a meet-up group for women of color. There, she realized many had the same issues with their salons — overbookings, late or canceled appointments or just a general disappointment with how their hair turned out. BEAUTYLYNK
  31. 31. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Parker is second-generation pharmacist who grew up behind the counter of his father’s mom-and-pop drug store in Concord, N.H. Whenever he went out to deliver prescriptions, he grew frustrated watching as customers used Excel spreadsheets and day-of-the- week pill containers to keep track of their medications. PILL PACK
  32. 32. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Feel your customer’s pain. 1 | Leave the Building
  33. 33. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Leave the building. REMEMBER THIS #1 Thanks to: Steve Blank
  34. 34. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack My two golden rules of user research: 1. Immersion is better than any other tactic. 2. Ask open-ended questions ONLY. 1 | Leave the Building
  35. 35. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack My two golden rules of user research: 1. Immersion is better than any other tactic. If you're interviewing people outside of the environment in which they'll be using your product, you're missing 70% of the observations you could be making. 2. Ask open-ended questions ONLY. 1 | Leave the Building
  36. 36. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack My two golden rules of user research: 1. Immersion is better than any other tactic. 2. Ask open-ended questions ONLY. The fastest way to ruin insight is to ask a leading question. Ask who, what, why, when, where, how. Ask people to walk you through a scenario in their own words. 1 | Leave the Building
  37. 37. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Tips for discovery conversations: 1. Get into research character. 2. Be fascinated. 3. Be neutral and encouraging. 4. Don’t judge or dismiss. 5. Build on the conversation. 6. When in doubt, clarify. 7. Listen, don’t lead. 8. Don’t pitch. 9. Watch body language. 10. Practice! 1 | Leave the Building
  38. 38. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 1 | Leave the Building 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have 5 | Poach from Competitors
  39. 39. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have Set up a landing page, collect emails. Now!
  40. 40. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have OBJECTIVES Test my value proposition (am I solving a problem people care about?) Get e-mail addresses (who cares about the problem I’m solving?)
  41. 41. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have Things you need: 1. A URL. 2. A value proposition. 3. A mailing list tool.
  42. 42. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have Things you don’t need: 1. A logo. 2. A blog, social media accounts etc. 3. A copywriter, designer, developer etc.
  43. 43. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have
  44. 44. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have
  45. 45. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have
  46. 46. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have
  47. 47. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Right now, do one thing well. REMEMBER THIS #2
  48. 48. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have WHAT’S THE ONE THING? Identify your core value proposition. Go hard on that one thing.
  49. 49. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have GET THE WORD OUT Post to social media, contact friends + family to share with their networks, email your own network, pursue startup promotional sites like ProductHunt.com and betalist.com.
  50. 50. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have PURSUE CONTACT INFO Landing pages are carefully designed to optimize for conversion. At an early stage, just a name + email is super valuable (see next steps).
  51. 51. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have WHAT DOES VALIDATION LOOK LIKE? That depends.
  52. 52. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have NOT SEEING USER GROWTH? Consider backtracking to simplify and dig into the customer discovery process.
  53. 53. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have NOT SEEING USER GROWTH? Leave the building again. Constantly verify > adapt > verify > adapt.
  54. 54. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have TOOLS launchrock.com + mailchimp.com
  55. 55. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 1 | Leave the Building 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have 5 | Poach from Competitors
  56. 56. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen So, now you have emails! Contact them immediately and ask if you can discuss your problem and idea.
  57. 57. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack OBJECTIVES Test my value proposition (am I solving a problem people care about?) Find out why people were interested in signing up for my product or service. Get direct feedback on our proposed solution. 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  58. 58. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Things you need: 1. A screener survey. 2. Specific questions. 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  59. 59. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Things you don’t need: 1. A product. 2. A prototype. 3. Incredible people skills. 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  60. 60. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack #1: Screener Survey. You don’t have time to talk to just anyone. A screener survey identifies: 1. People in your target market. 2. A diversity of perspectives to interview. 3. People eligible to use your product (age etc) 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  61. 61. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have
  62. 62. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have
  63. 63. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack #2: Specific Questions. Use open ended discovery questions to identify users existing behaviors + motivations around whatever you’re digging into. 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  64. 64. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack #2: Specific Questions. For example, if I was working on a new thermostat: 1. What kind of home do you live in currently? 2. When temperatures get hot or cold, how do you stay comfortable in your house. 3. How has that changed in the last 6 months? 4. How did you prepare for your last trip? Walk me through it. 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  65. 65. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 1 | Listen, Listen, Listen Insight: users don’t care about the science. We thought people would love to learn.
  66. 66. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have Insight: users take pride in their space, and it needs to be beautiful.
  67. 67. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have Insight: early adopters are invested in the entire ecosystem of sustainability.
  68. 68. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have Insight: users already garden. We thought we’d teach non-gardeners to garden.
  69. 69. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Thoughts on surveys. 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  70. 70. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Surveys are great if you want to… 1. Track changes over time — See what changes before and after a feature launch. 2. Quantify issues seen in user studies — We know [x] is a problem for some users, but how many? 3. Measure attitudes, intents, or task success. Thanks to: Elizabeth Ferrall-Nunge, UX at Twitter 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  71. 71. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Surveys are not so great if you want to… 1. Discover underlying user needs — users aren’t great at self-identifying. 2. Understand whether people can successfully use your product. 3. Uncover user habits and behavior. Again, people are really bad at self-reporting. Thanks to: Elizabeth Ferrall-Nunge, UX at Twitter 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  72. 72. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack My two golden rules of user research: 1. Immersion is better than any other tactic. If you're interviewing people outside of the environment in which they'll be using your product, you're missing 70% of the observations you could be making. 2. Ask open-ended questions ONLY. 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  73. 73. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack My two golden rules of user research: 1. Immersion is better than any other tactic. 2. Ask open-ended questions ONLY. The fastest way to ruin insight is to ask a leading question. Ask who, what, why, when, where, how. Ask people to walk you through a scenario in their own words. 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  74. 74. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Some insight is better than none, but beware your solution bias when writing surveys. Something we’ve definitely done wrong at Grove (and I’ve now seen many times). 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  75. 75. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Survey Tips: 1. Avoid leading questions. 2. Avoid agree/ disagree statements. 3. Beware photos + visual design. 4. Avoid comparison questions. 5. Randomize answer order. 6. Keep it short. 7. Avoid “nice-to-know” questions. Thanks to: Elizabeth Ferrall-Nunge, UX at Twitter 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen
  76. 76. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 1 | Leave the Building 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have 5 | Poach from Competitors
  77. 77. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Will customers pay for this?
  78. 78. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have Things you need: 1. A prototype or product concept. 2. A way to accept payment.
  79. 79. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Things you don’t need: 1. An actual product. 2. A final price point. 3. Sales people. 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have
  80. 80. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have
  81. 81. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have Empty Wooden Box
  82. 82. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have Empty Wooden Box Artificially Planted
  83. 83. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have Empty Wooden Box Artificially Planted No Idea How Much to Charge
  84. 84. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Result: Sold three units at $800+. 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have
  85. 85. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Result: Sold three units at $800+. (The final product sold for $2400). 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have
  86. 86. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack It’s not validation if there are no stakes. It’s okay to sell a non-existent product. Make sure you can reimburse the user! But go for the real sale, in which the user thinks they’ve traded cold hard cash for your product or service. 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have
  87. 87. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack After selling? We refined our roadmap and let our customers know, giving them to chance to opt-out if they didn’t want to wait 8 months. 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have
  88. 88. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack After selling? We refined our roadmap and let our customers know, giving them to chance to opt-out if they didn’t want to wait 8 months. 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have
  89. 89. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Do things that don’t scale. REMEMBER THIS #3
  90. 90. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Optimize for learning. That means doing everything in your power to prove a hypothesis before building in response to it. 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have
  91. 91. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Looks automatic.
  92. 92. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Super not automatic.
  93. 93. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Super informative!
  94. 94. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Optimize for learning. REMEMBER THIS #4
  95. 95. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack 1 | Leave the Building 2 | Pitch the Product You Don’t Have 3 | Listen, Listen, Listen 4 | Sell the Product You Don’t Have 5 | Poach from Competitors
  96. 96. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Talk to their users. What do users love? What do users want, and not get? 5 | Poach from Competitors
  97. 97. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack AirBnB got started by “what would people user if AirBnB didn’t exist? — Craigslist, where their users were already looking for apartment rentals. 5 | Poach from Competitors
  98. 98. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack They scraped apartment data and put it on their own site, then pitched those apartment owners on using AirBnB as well. 5 | Poach from Competitors
  99. 99. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack We started testing all of our (few) competitors products at home + at the office. 5 | Poach from Competitors
  100. 100. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Analyze the competitive landscape. Your users certainly are. What’s your specific segment you can address better than anyone? 5 | Poach from Competitors
  101. 101. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack
  102. 102. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Criteria A Criteria B Criteria 2Criteria 1
  103. 103. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Low Yield High Yield AutomatedDIY 5 | Poach from Competitors
  104. 104. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack
  105. 105. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack “Am I building something people want?”
  106. 106. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack “and will pay for?”
  107. 107. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Confirm that yes, you are — or pivot. 5 | Poach from Competitors
  108. 108. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Fast. 5 | Poach from Competitors
  109. 109. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack Listen more than you talk. REMEMBER THIS #5
  110. 110. liz@grovelabs.io | @lizco Liz Cormack liz.j.cormack@gmail.com @lizco Get in touch!

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