Customer Discovery within Lean LaunchPad augmented with a select number of design research tools speeds up deep empathy, and expands student and founder understanding of the core, deep-rooted unmet needs they are trying to solve.
CUSTOMER DISCOVERY +
JEN VAN DER MEER
NYU ITP | SVA POD
LEAN LAUNCHPAD SIMULATES ENTREPRENEURSHIP
BY REQUIRING FOUNDERS TO GET OUT OF THE
BUILDING…AND INTO THEIR CUSTOMER’S WORLD.
Flipped classroom, experiential learning
Most learning occurs out of the building
In direct conversations with customers3
TALKING TO CUSTOMERS IS INTIMIDATING –
WHAT DO I SAY, WHAT DO I DO?
OBSERVING CUSTOMERS IS TRICKY – WHAT
DO I LOOK FOR, WHAT DO I WATCH?
TEAMS GET OVER THE HUMP, BUT FIND ITS VERY
HARD TO GET TO A TRUE PAIN POINT
“I think I only scratched the surface, and never really got to the
“I don’t know if my customers really understand what they need
enough to articulate it to me.”
“Customers said they would pay, but then they didn’t when it
came time to pay.”
BUT WITHOUT DEEPER UNDERSTANDING, TEAMS
STRUGGLE TO DISCOVER THE HIDDEN, INVISIBLE, OUT
OF CONSCIOUSNESS TRUTHS. THE DEEPEST PAIN
POINTS THAT CUSTOMER WANT SOLVED.
CUSTOMER DISCOVERY YIELDS SURFACE LEVEL INSIGHTS
Find the outlier
unmet needs that
Most startups fit the
bell curve of
AS A RESULT, MANY STARTUPS CHASE
THE SAME PAIN POINTS
SELECTING QUICK HIGH IMPACT DESIGN RESEARCH
METHODS TO GET UNDER THE ICEBERG
WHAT’S DIFFERENT FROM DESIGN RESEARCH
Customer development IS different than ethnography or design research inquiry –
Founders are NOT neutral observers. While you can practice the art of neutral
observation, you, as a founder, are making contact with your first potential customers.
We’re going to start wide, and expansive, and go deep, getting to deeply unmet
needs that can drive a successful business model.
But we will be quickly moving to understand the business model that will fuel your
- test customer reactions
- is the business model scalable?
- build customer demand
- clarify customer needs
- is the customer need significant?
- test product features
DESIGN RESEARCH METHODS
TO COMPLEMENT CUSTOMER DISCOVERY
Getting Ready Designer/Researcher Text/Source
Trend/ SMEs/ Hypothesis Ajay Revels Politemachines
Empathy exercises D-School D-School Bootleg
Brain Dump Steve Portigal Interviewing Users
Ask for Stories Ajay Revels Politemachines
Create Contrasts Steve Portigal Interviewing Users
Probe for the Unsaid Steve Portigal Interviewing Users
Tours or Games Ajay Revels Politemachines
AEIOU Harrington Universal Methods of
Camera diary Ajay Revels Politemachines
Gather what is known about the problem and your proposed customer.
Current trends. Familiarize yourself with current trends that may be
driving the problems for your proposed customer.
SMEs. Learn what subject matter experts (SMEs) know about your
problem or your proposed customer. Pick their brain, look for early
insights and key questions.
Hypothesis. Write out an hypothesis or problem statement to help
frame your exploration.
“Prepare your mind to see the unmet needs and customer problems by
learning as much as you can about what is already known. Use the time
you spend in the field to explore what is unknown.”
– Ajay Revels, Politemachines
GETTING READY: TRENDS / SMES / HYPOTHESIS
GETTING READY: DEVELOPING EMPATHY
The problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own – and you won’t
find a market until you can understand the needs that other have. Make
sure you are not just getting out of the building, but getting into the context
of your customers’ lives.
Observe: View users and their behavior in the context of their lives.
Engage: interact and interview users through scheduled and short
Immerse: Experience what your user experiences.
From: D-School Bootcamp Bootleg:
Convene a brain dump.
Get what’s in everyone’s heads out on the table. Assumptions,
expectations, closely held beliefs, perspectives, hypotheses.
Contradictions are inevitable, and become great fodder for
hypotheses to test on your business model canvas.
“Think about it as a transitional ritual of unburdening, like men emptying
their pockets of keys, change, and wallet as soon as they return home.”
– Adapted from Steve Portigal, Interviewing Users.
GETTING READY: BRAIN DUMP
EXPLAIN YOUR PURPOSE & ASK FOR STORIES
Strangers are generally happy to provide quick feedback on a product idea or
talk about their pain points around a particular topic. Ensure a good interaction
by being upfront about your request;
Purpose: I’d like to learn about…
Time: I’d like 10 minutes of your time…
Freedoms: You can decline to answer any question or end the
conversation at any time…
Method: I will show you XYZ, I will watch you do XYZ, I will ask about
People communicate naturally by using stories, anecdotes and jokes.
Encourage this. Introduce a topic you’re interested in and let them tell you a
story about it. Smile. Make eye contact. Nod. Say very little. This will break the
ice and will get you closer to the answers you’re looking for.
-- Ajay Revels, Politemachines
To check against a “cover story” or get underneath the obvious truths:
Compare processes: “How is applying for preschool different than applying
Compare to others: “Do you learning habits differ from your fellow grad
students in your program”
Compare across time: “How have your shopping habits changed from the
time you lived with roommate, to living alone, to living with a partner.”
• Adapted from Interviewing Users, by Steve Portigal
To get underneath to values, latent needs, reasons why:
Ask for clarification: “When you said everything changed after
September, what happened then.”
Ask about code words: “What does that acronym stand for.”
Ask about emotional cues: “Why do you laugh when you mention Seven
Probe delicately: “You mentioned that changes in your organization led
to a different decision – can you tell me what that situation was.”
Probe without presuming: “Some people have strong opinions about
teaching children to read before they enter first grade, while other’s
don’t. What is your take.”
• Adapted from Interviewing Users, by Steve Portigal
PROBE FOR THE UNSAID
Tours are a form of immersive observation that allow you to experience the
whole context of the customer problem you’re interested in. Tours can be as
broad as “shopping for shoes” or as specific as sending a message to a family
Games or simulations are a playful form of interactive observation that allow
you to experiment with different aspects of the customer problem.
Your mission is to capture:
Who (who are we observing)
What (what are they doing)
How (how are they doing it)
Why (are they doing it)
When (are they doing it)
Where (are they doing it)
-- Ajay Revels, Polite Machines
TOURS & GAMES
Camera studies or photo sorts are a quick and easy way to get proposed
customers to SHOW you aspects of a particular topic you’re interested in
understanding. Photos also help spark conversations that illuminate the roots of the
customer problem and uncover their unmet needs.
Topic: ask for photos around a specific activity. “Please take a few quick photos
while you are shopping for shoes.” Or…”Go online and find photos of people
shopping for shoes.”
Number: ask for a specific number of images. 3-4. If people have more that’s fine.
Send: to keep the activity as simple and pain free as possible, ask people to email
you photos from their smartphone.
Busy people who don’t have time to talk to you will often agree to snap photos as
they go about their daily lives.
-- Ajay Revels, Politemachines
AEIOU is an organizational framework when you get into the natural habitat of the
person you are interviewing, and gives you a construct to look, listen, and observe
(rather than talk, and hear):
Activities: goal directed sets of actions. What are the pathways that people take
toward the things they want to accomplish, including specific actions and processes?
Environments: include the entire arena in which activities take place.
Interactions: between a person and someone, or something else, and are the
building blocks of activities.
Objects: Building blocks of the environments, key elements put to complex or even
unintended uses, possibly changing their function, meaning, and context.
Users: people whose behaviors, preferences, and needs are bing observed. Who is
present? What are their roles and relationships? What are their values and biases.
From: Universal Methods of Design. Bella Harrington, Bruce Hanington.
HOW TO CONSTRUCT A VALUE PROPOSITION
DRIVEN BY DESIGN RESEARCH
POINTS + NEEDS
STATED, VISIBLE, AND
BUT DON’T DESIGN RESEARCH FOREVER
Move forward to quantitative proof when you seek to validate your
business model, testing and iterating until you find scalability, and
The goal: deliver the volume to build a profitable company
Designers and Design Researchers often avoid the work of the
funnel – but as a founder – you have to test your ability to scale:
Product, acquisition, pricing, channel, sales plan
AGILE AND LEAN INFLUENCES
Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling
Insights: Steve Portigal
Universal Methods of Design: Bella Harrington, Bruce
DSchool Bootcamp Bootleg
Ajay Revels Polite Machines
DESIGN RESEARCH CONTRIBUTORS
Syllabus and updates here on the class blog – and all
work herein is based on adaptations and lessons
learned teaching Lean LaunchPad at NYU ITP.
To add to this list of resources and tools for students,
contact Jen van der Meer: @jenvandermeer
ABOUT THE CLASS