STEP 4: Don’t Listen to Steve Jobs: You HAVE To Gather Data

(This is the 4th post in the series 6 Steps to Startup Launch. You can find the introductory post here, and the previous post here.)

There are some entrepreneurs who feel they can totally shun the customer research process and instead feel they can rely purely on their product instinct. Then they quote Steve Jobs, who famously said that “Customers don’t know what they want until they see it.”

The Apple G4-Cube looked nice, but bombed.

Well for one, chances are, you are not Steve Jobs. Two, Steve did do a ton of product research: Apple 3, The Lisa, and his Next Computer, even the Apple G4 Cube computer (done after he returned to Apple) were complete, utter failures in the market. I’m willing to bet he learned a TON of things about the market from these failures which he applied in building the successes he forged his legacy on. He used huge failures to hone his product instinct. Three, using the MVP (minimum viable product) process does indeed SHOW the customer the product, as opposed to pure focus groups, which was what Steve was pertaining to in this quote.

So, unless you are willing to gather data by actually spending millions to launch a product which hasn’t gone through customer feedback, let’s continue with STEP 4: Gathering Customer Data (on your MVP), shall we?

Let’s tackle some key insights:

1) Bring your MVP to Innovators and Early Adopters

Geoffrey Moore’s 1991 book, Crossing the Chasm, has served as the marketing bible for tech startups from the time of its publishing until now. While he meant for it to be a guide for tech startups, I find that its concepts pretty much hold true for any startup with a truly innovative product (which is a bit redundant considering our description of a startup here).

What is critical is the customer adoption life-cycle Moore introduces and is shown below (thanks Wikipedia for the chart):

From left to right, this illustration reveals the 5 categories of customers you will encounter when you build an innovative product or service. Moore recommends that marketers should focus on one category first before moving on to the next. This is an exciting topic I will cover in more detail in another post, in the meantime, let me ask you to focus your attention on the leftmost side of the curve – the innovators and the early adopters.

These guys are the enthusiasts who will be excited about your new product because they believe in the potential of your new product. These are the people who are willing to look beyond the imperfections your new product WILL have because they see its promise.

Is your product a cutting edge web tool? Bring it to the über tech geeks to play around with. Is it a health product? Bring it to über health fanatics who will try anything in the name of fitness. Got an innovative marketing service? Bring it to an innovative marketing director who is known to try new things. For STORM, our early adopters were (surprising for us) medium-sized local firms who could make decisions fast and wanted to have an HR edge over their international counterparts.

Why bring it to them? Because they care, and will be more than willing to render their feedback, and most importantly, their time. Chances are, you will be ignored if you bring your product to customers in the other categories

So how do you find these people? Be an entrepreneur – research, be creative, and just do it. They ARE out there.

2. Gathering the data

If it’s a product, show them your MVP and then do one thing: shut up.

Resist the urge to render any input as this may affect the person’s experience. Just observe how the customer uses your product. For web services, for example, the suggestion is to just observe them while they go onto your site. As in be in the room with them as they visit your site for the first time. And then shut up. Observe: how do they navigate your site? What don’t they understand?

For services, it gets to be more tricky, as the MVP is likely to be invisible. You CAN still make them go through the service process by giving large discounts or incentives. One reader said his new service firm was going to do pro-bono consulting work just to get early feedback. That works!

After the customer experiences the MVP, then ask the simplest questions: what did you like? what did you not like? how could the experience be improved?

By this time, I am almost 100% sure you would already be realizing that some of your initial assumptions were wrong.

3) The Importance of Humility

In essence, you will have customers tell you that part or the entirety of your idea sucks.

If you are human, then this has to feel at least a tiny bit hurtful because it was YOUR idea and you devoted time and energy building your MVP.

Resist the urge which says:

“This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

or

“This guy is an outlier.”

or

“This guy probably hates me and is jealous.”

Listen to the feedback. Listen to the feedback.

Then be brutally honest with yourself and your team. Accept that some parts of your idea (or maybe even your entire idea) may actually suck.

Now, iterate!

(Know anyone whom you think just NEEDS to hear the content of Juangreatleap? Be a blessing and share NOW!)

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