5 Tips for Customer Discovery

By Ain CFE Staff

“In a sense there’s just one mistake that kills startups: not making something users want,” argues Paul Graham of Y Combinator. “If you make something users want, you’ll probably be fine, whatever else you do or don’t do. And if you don’t make something users want, then you’re dead, whatever else you do or don’t do.”

The Ain Center’s Foundry Forum series (new for Fall 2018) is designed to supplement existing entrepreneurship classes and programming. These workshops explore the fundamentals of starting your own venture, including how to talk with potential customers to learn about their needs. Our second Forum – The Voice of a Customer: Shut Up and Listen – was held on October 22. Facilitators Matt Spielmann and Max Sims shared their experiences and tips – five of which are below!

Establish Market Need

According to a CB Insights study, 42% of startups fail because there is no market need for their innovation. Learning about your customer and asking questions that get to the heart of their problems can help ensure that there will be a fighting chance for your enterprise.

Ask Yourself: A Product May Be "Cool," But Will It Sell?

Startups face a number of challenges - why add to those by not doing your research? Your venture may be centered on a new high-tech product, but over-engineering can lead to obsolescence. There may be a pain point that your target customer is dealing with but, according to Max Sims, "there's a difference between pain and pain worth solving."

Use Hypothesis-Based Testing

Start with your assumptions: what do you think is the problem? Once you have these starting points, create "I believe _____" statements that can be proven true or false. For example, "I believe [my customer] has a problem [achieving a specific goal]." Use interviews to prove/disprove these statements and continue to refine your hypotheses. Ultimately, the goal is to determine whether or not you have a product-market fit. Asking the right questions, limiting your own bias, and keeping an open mind are key to customer discovery.

Customer Discovery Must Be Ongoing

When is the right time to talk to your customers about what they want? ALWAYS. This cannot be overstated. Entrepreneurs need to remain aware of market needs and consumer desires at every phase of their venture. Whether you have an idea that you want to build upon, or a large company launching a new product line, customer discovery should be constant.

Stick to a Few Basic Techniques

To summarize, our workshop facilitators put together a handy "how-to" guide. While there is extensive literature on performing customer discovery, these few basics will help get you started on the right path.

Chart of basic techniques created by Matt Spielmann and Max Sims for Voice of Customer Workshop in October 2018 (inspired by Talking to Humans, by Giff Constable and Frank Rimalovski).

If you have any questions about customer discovery, please contact the Ain Center at AinCFE@rochester.edu or make an appointment with Matt Spielmann. Interested in attending future Foundry Forums or workshops? Head over to our Events Calendar and register online!