In the early stages of startup development, interactions with customers can cause big impressions that put pressure on teams to move faster.
Interacting with potential customers can feel very positive. It can create a feeling of happiness because it’s real and far from theoretical work. When real people are in front of you, they look like customers. Many conflicts and doubts disappear. A sense of validation replaces the tension of uncertainty. On the bright side, it is an interaction that adds color to the building blocks in the process — the persona is suddenly alive, the problem is now a real pain, and the solution needed.
He or she is a voice that frees the team from a tedious design process that can be endless and drive nowhere. A light of a potential customer now illuminates the dark side of that lean tunnel.
However, a potential danger is imminent. It appears as a force that breaks the design process using — precisely — the voice of the customer. This situation is not much different from the corporate one when an employee unintentionally lies in a beautiful presentation using data. According to Steve Blank, there is an extreme version that happens with startup founders:
A founder goes out of the building, hears something from a customer, comes back to his poor company and announces — We need to pivot, we need to pivot, and we need to pivot again. (Steve Blank @ MAP Unimelb, 2014,)
In other words, the “customer” appears in the scene so vividly that teams can get distracted and break the value of the process. It may sound evil, but it is unintentional. What is behind this? Cognitive distortions of founders, time pressure, and God knows what more.
Mapping data from real customers is already complex. But it’s even more challenging when who they are talking to may or may not represent your right customer.
When interacting with people at the early stage, it’s essential to maintain a side process as a shock absorber to reduce risks — an ongoing evaluation analysis, check with experts, feedback with external audiences, and more.
But what about the process? It’s logical to think that lean methodologies have the solution to this problem. Customer development, for example, offers an excellent framework for navigating data about customers. Although that is correct, it is not uncommon to see teams gravitating towards a state of validation — as if they are in a hurry to give up the lean tunnel as soon as possible.
This concern should be present at all stages of the startup development. According to Eric Ries, in The Startup Way, entrepreneurs continue to create companies born like startups but eventually fail to operate like a startup. He often asks entrepreneurs “If you hate big companies so much, why are you trying to create one?”
Thanks to Steve Blank @ MAP Unimelb, for the insights available at the following video, published on Mar 13, 2014
Thanks to Mr. E, a friend and advisor that reviewed this article. Last revision meeting id is 655cc49e-8f07–44b1-aa77–8cefc17b00d. I am Marcio S Galli, a Brazilian-entrepreneur that you can find at mgalli @ mgalli.com.