Brian Rhea Brian Rhea

The Dos and Don'ts of Customer Discovery

If you’re working on a startup and you haven’t already heard this, you will eventually: “You’ve got to get out of the building.”

This doesn’t mean to get all Steve Jobs and go for a walk to clear your mind and get the blood flowing. It means you have to get out of your cozy little bubble and talk to your (potential) customers.

Maybe you’re ready to get out there and start talking to folks, but you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, nervous, or unsure of where to start. After all, customer research is its own specialty with stacks of books and expert opinions on the topic!

Listen. You don’t have to be perfect. Your methodology doesn’t have to be flawless. And the first step to getting better is to get started.

So, here are four simple things to keep in mind if you’re building and validating a new idea:

Don’t do this. Instead, do this.

  • Don’t try to get a couple hundred customers in your first few months. Instead, find a small handful of customers and get a deep understanding of their problems.

  • Don’t convince yourself that every inconvenience they run into is a problem they would pay to solve. Instead, listen for their recurring, high-value pains.

  • Don’t parachute into the communities you’re going to serve and start asking people to sign up for your thing. Instead, offer ten pieces of free value (free guides, lists of resources, short conversations) for every one request you make. Commiting to a 10:1 ratio is a good benchmark.

  • Don’t let on that you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into fleshing out your idea, even if you have. Instead, keep the stakes low so that the person you’re talking to feels free to criticize or invalidate your assumptions.

If that’s helpful, you can keep reading here. I dig into each of those four points and link out to some other useful advice on the topic.


A Few Things I Enjoyed this Week

  1. Kinda random, but I just finished re-reading Jurassic Park. As an allegory for the chaos that ensues when humanity forgets its place in the hierarchy of the natural world, it holds up. The computer scenes (though they are different in the book than in the movie) are as much of an eye-roller as they ever were, but I love this book! Jurassic Park was my first “grown-up book” to read as a kid so it has that special place in my story. What was yours? Shoot me a reply and let me know!

  2. I introduced my daughter to Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of Bach’s Cello Suites the other day. I felt a serious “good dad” win as I heard her tell her smart speaker: “Hey Google. Play Yo Yo Ma Cello Sweet” at bedtime.

  3. I like this thread from Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon. “There’s someone I know who was starting their business at the same time I was starting mine. Almost a year and a half has passed since that time. That person still hasn’t launched their company.” Check the thread for her final thoughts, but I think they are well summarized as: Prepare. Not too much. Launch and adapt.

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