"If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” We have all heard Henry Ford’s famous quote many times before and it serves as a battle cry to many a visionary entrepreneur who swears against asking customers what they want.
Henry Ford’s famous quote serves
as a battle cry to many a visionary
entrepreneur who swears against
asking customers what they want.
”It’s really hard to design
products by focus groups. A
lot of times, people don’t
know what they want until
you show it to them.”
- Steve Jobs
There is often a gap between what focus group participants say and do, small samples can’t
be generalised, participants have varying motivations, introverts lose their voice and group
leaders can influence the direction of discussions.
SO WHAT IF YOU’RE NOT
BLESSED WITH STEVE JOBS’
Most entrepreneurs must instead rely on the
ability to identify problems and find cheap
and quick ways to test and iterate on the
underlying assumptions in order to get to
product market fit before the well runs dry.
These entrepreneurs don’t
start off with a grand vision.
Oftentimes they start off with
what they think is a problem
and what they think a
solution to that problem
might be and iterate from
So, what did it really
mean if customers had
said that they wanted
Closer inspection of Ford’s quote reveals
something a lot more profound, particularly
for innovators and product managers.
Ultimately, Henry Ford did give his
customers exactly what they wanted.
He gave them faster transportation.
was essentially their ‘job
to be done’ and getting
to this answer might
have been as simple as
asking why they
wanted a faster horse.
Knowing what the
underlying problem and
need is gives entrepreneurs
a much higher chance of
success in developing a
solution that fills that
It sounds simple but given that more than 90% of startups fail,
perhaps the concept isn’t widely acknowledged, understood or adopted.
1. Question, Observe, Network and
According to The Innovator’s Method,
we must first question, observe,
network and experiment.
Engage and think broadly.
Ask questions of customers, co-workers,
suppliers, partners, family, friends and so on.
Ask open-ended questions. Ask why.
Network aggressively with people from
inside and outside your industry. Read lots
of different blogs and magazines. Step
outside of the realm of familiarity and get
interested in lots of different subject matter.
Being able to think laterally and draw
examples from one industry that can
be applied in another, often lends
itself to innovation. These tools will put
you in a position to better identify
potential problems to be solved
Painstorming, is used to map the
customer journey, identify pain points,
root causes and assumptions
underlying key problems.
Begin with your problem hypotheses
using jobs to be done, perform root
cause analysis and focus on key
assumptions underlying the root
3. Walk In Your Customer's Shoes
No technique helps you understand your customer's pain points better than walking a
mile in their shoes. Truly immerse yourself in the day in, day out activities of your
customers. Doing so should reveal lots of insights, potential opportunities and give
you a better appreciation for the size of problems.
4. Problem and Solution Discussion
Once you have an idea of what the problems facing
your customers are and a relative idea of your
solution, discuss this with your customer.
Show them what you think the key problems are, get
them to rank the problems and confirm whether or
not you’ve missed any major pain points.
When you’ve done that do the same with
your solution. It’s important that you have a
firm grasp of the problems you’re trying to
solve, the magnitude of the problem and
what the reaction to your initial solution
What you are ultimately looking for is a
pain that is big enough (i.e. affecting more
than enough people to build a sustainable
and scalable business on) and a solution
that solves this problem for less than what
it costs to deliver.
Instead of building products that nobody
wants, take the time that’s necessary up
front to walk a mile in your customer’s
shoes, gain a true appreciation for customer
pain points and then think about developing
a solution. You might just end up saving
yourself a lot of time, money and heartache.
Steve Glaveski is co-founder and Chief Innovation Consultant at
Collective Campus. Steve spent time working at the likes
of Macquarie Bank, Ernst & Young and KPMG, before embarking
upon his own entrepreneurial journey, founding Hotdesk, an office
sharing platform with almost 1,200 locations across AsiaPac. Steve is
also a startup mentor, innovation writer, and keynote speaker, and is
also a board member of AgTech, a federal government funded
initiative driving agricultural innovation.
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