Customer Development Update (and why I’m sticking with 1-on-1 talks)

Giff Constable startups

crowdConversations with prospective customers is an unending process. Here is a quick update (first post) on some of those efforts with Aprizi:

First, conversations have gotten a lot more concrete as we’ve honed our thoughts. We started out talking about people’s challenges and a wide array of features. The first wave of discussions helped us narrow down and prioritize what we wanted to build. Now we are focused on reinforcing and adjusting to the following:

  • Do we fully understand the customer’s online behavior and challenges/needs?
  • Do we understand customer differences based on age, gender, location? (help define sweet spot)
  • Do we understand how this customer is using or reacting to indirect competitors?
  • How do we reach this customer?
  • Are we building the right thing?

Paper mockups have been a very helpful addition. Just showing a couple of printouts of the potential website really accelerates the conversation. People can see the primary feature right there on the page and riff on what they like, dislike, or think we’re missing.

At the start of these talks, I continue to stress the desire for blunt feedback, even if negative. I think people genuinely respond to the statement that honest feedback helps us avoid building the wrong thing.

At the end of these talks, I always ask whether the product is: “I must have this now!”, “sounds interesting, might try”, or “not really for me”. (and try to read their tone and body language as they answer)

I also try to end each conversation asking if the person can introduce me to one or two more people who like to shop online and might be able to give me more feedback.  This often requires follow-up, but I’m trying to always send a thank you anyway.

I know that the reality here is that what people say isn’t always what they do, but this kind of learning is the best thing we can do while we move towards minimal viable product.

Experiment: A Group Discussion
On Monday, I tried my first group meeting as an experiment and found the dynamic a bit challenging. It was useful, but in the end, I felt like we would have gotten better info by meeting each person individually. It was no fault of the participants — they tried very hard to be generous and honest — but rather it was the format I found difficult.

To paint the scene, I met with 3 women, and my technical partner sat in to observe. I was consciously trying to avoid “group think” in the flow of the conversation, but found it impossible to pursue a line of questioning very far or dig deep to understand the true motivations of a participant. The conversation felt a lot more disjointed. It was much harder to read each individual. Because I was trying to manage the group, it was also much easier to forget things.

In one case, one women stated a worry and the others followed suit. It was on a topic that previous interviewees have not been concerned with. Now, all three could have been legitimately concerned and we’re going to assume that is the case, but we also wonder how much the second two were influenced by the first person to speak up.

So net-net, I’m going to stick to 1-on-1 interviews. Not only are they easier to organize *and* friendlier to the interviewee because you work to their schedule, but I think the results are a lot more meaningful.