Taking a scientific approach to customer development

Written by Mike Rocha Aug. 1, 2022

Being a great entrepreneur means knowing how to balance passion and objectivity when it comes to your venture. But how do you ensure your passion doesn't get in the way of making the right decisions for your business?
Taking a scientific approach to customer development

About the author

Mike Rocha

Mike Rocha is one of our professional mentors on MentorCruise and works as CTO at Sorger & Company Inc..

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There’s one trait that most entrepreneurs have in common, regardless of their industry, background or product, and that is passion. Most entrepreneurs start business ventures with a passion to solve a particular problem in the world, and it is that passion that drives them to make that product or venture successful. That passion helps entrepreneurs push through the rocky waters that often accompany the early days of a new business venture, helping them weather those 80-hour work weeks and seemingly endless to-do lists - all because they’re convinced that their idea solves a major real world problem, and delivering on that idea will all but assure success.

While that passion can be a valuable driving force for any entrepreneur, it can also be a detriment to their objectivity. Founders that begin their new ventures with a strong belief in their idea are often guilty of allowing that belief to cloud their judgment. The issue of being “too close to the product” is common among startup founders and established businesses alike, where one’s passion for their product, idea or new feature hampers their ability to act on that idea in a more scientific way, with hypotheses, testing and measurement at the forefront.

So you’re a startup founder that thinks you’ve found that killer idea that’s going to change countless lives and generate enormous amounts of revenue in the process. How do you ensure you don’t let your personal opinion and excitement for your venture stand in the way of making the objectively right decisions for your business?

It all starts with customer development, where you speak to real customers directly about their pain points. For any business to be successful, it needs to have a sizeable group of consumers and/or businesses ready and willing to hand over their hard-earned dollars to use its product. That ideally means that the product being produced solves a real and specific pain point in the lives of those consumers, a pain point those consumers will gladly pay to resolve. And while the process of finding product-market fit often starts with some sort of baseline concept, target vertical or area of expertise, successful entrepreneurs know that both minor and major pivots away from their original ideas are not only expected, but welcome.

Here are some of the ways startup founders can sustain that ever-important objectivity in their new ventures:


Use the scientific method

All great product ideas start with a hypothesis - an educated guess about the existence and size of a particular problem in the world, along with a potential solution to solve that problem. Treating your business idea as just that - an educated guess - will encourage a more objective approach to validating that idea and a readiness to pivot when necessary. Your hypothesis should always be accompanied by a set of assumptions based on your current understanding of your customer base, the industry you’re targeting, or the technology you’re aiming to employ. Each of your assumptions should be analyzed in terms of risk - if a particular assumption proves to be false in the customer development process, how much does that impact your hypothesis? Your riskiest assumption should be noted, as you’ll want to validate that assumption as top priority in your customer development interviews.


Apply a healthy dose of skepticism

Playing devil’s advocate is an important part of validating your product or business idea. Are there competitors in the space that could easily replicate what you’re hoping to accomplish? What if you find a lot of users that love your idea, but not enough to pay for it? Are there any technological hurdles in your potential product that may be too large to overcome? Being ready to face any of these challenges and obstacles will make any pivots and adjustments you need to make less painful. And while the urge to allow the perceived potential of your product to overpower these obstacles may be enticing, it’s important to ensure you’ve mapped out a path forward in all scenarios, no matter how unlikely it is that you think those paths will be followed.


Let your customers do the talking

A successful customer development interview should always start with the assumption that you don’t know what your customer’s pain points really are, and as a result, you have no idea what types of solutions they value. To that end, it’s critical to ensure your customer interviews don’t redirect or guide your customers to a line of thinking unnaturally. Be curious about their day to day stressors, and keep an open mind about the various different ways they might look to minimize those stressors. Entering a customer interview with a predetermined conversational target can often yield false positives, where your interviewee may find themselves agreeing with you just to be courteous. The most successful customer interviews are those in which you learned something new about your potential target audience, and can use that new learning towards finding that ideal product-market fit.


Use measurements to drive your decision-making

Solving a customer pain point isn’t a black-and-white concept. To truly understand the issue you’re hoping to solve and how to solve it, it is important to find measurable attributes to serve as your baseline. For example, imagine you’re interviewing a customer about how they manage their household budgets, and you discover that the customer’s biggest pain point is how frequently they have to monitor their budget allocations when making spending decisions. An easy way to quantify this is to ask how often they check those allocations, and how much time it takes them for each check. This would give you a baseline amount of time spent by the customer doing something they don’t want to do. You might then think about a product or service that would somehow reduce that time spent. This would then translate into an easily communicated value proposition for your product: “How valuable would it be if there were a product that saved you X hours per week in your household budgeting?”


It’s important to note that passion and objectivity are not necessarily mutually exclusive when building something new. Finding the right balance between a scientific, process-driven approach to customer development and a healthy dose of passion and entrepreneurial spirit to drive you towards that elusive product-market fit is key to finding early success in any new business venture.


About the author

Mike Rocha

Mike Rocha is one of our professional mentors on MentorCruise and works as CTO at Sorger & Company Inc..

Visit Profile

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