Customer development as part of building a business is extremely difficult. There are certainly several psychological barriers the entrepreneur should overcome in order to get out of the building and meet his/ her customers in person.
I do not intend to go through these barriers in this post but I would like to focus a little bit more on the excuses they come up in order to avoid the painful process, even though they are aware of the Benefits of Customer Development.
Over the past few years I heard the most amazing reasons for not doing customer development. Amongst them, the most common are:
1. I do not have a clue where to start.
You do not have to start at the beginning. Pick any point of the process and launch. If there are any gaps, you can always go back to fill them up. It is never too late.
2. I do not have anything concrete to sell.
Initially, you just need to test your idea. You should not even attempt to sell anything until you identified the problem and came up with a valid solution. Customer development is part of this problem identification.
3. I am still in the process of finishing my business plan.
Once you finish your business plan, you should set it on fire in an elaborate ritual. A business plan is useful only after you know who your customers are, how many of them will buy your product, at what price. If you do not have this information at hand, you are probably writing a work of fiction.
4. I already know what my future customers would like to buy.
You ASSUME what your customers would like to buy. This assumption needs to be proven through the customer development process. Until that happens do not spend loads of money in chasing chimaeras.
5. My product/ service is not perfect. If my future customers experience or hear about it at such an early stage, my business will get a bad reputation.
If you try to perfect your product, you will lose a lot of money and time on something that may or may not work. The risk you are taking could cost you the business, since the number one reason for a startup’s failure is the eventual lack of funds. Actually, I think that this is The No. 1 Mistake New Entrepreneurs Make.
6. I do not have the time to do the interviews.
Find the time by using time management techniques. If necessary, cut down from other aspects of the business, such as product development.
7. At this early stage, I am afraid none will be interested in my product/ service.
You will not know, if someone is interested or not until you ask.
8. I do not know how to approach the customers.
Take a course in customer development or ask an expert to teach you. I would not advise you to hire a consultant to do the job for you, as this is an invaluable part of the learning experience.
9. I am afraid that the competition will find out about my business idea and copy it.
If the competition is successful, they will keep ignoring you until your idea has been validated. Ideas are ten a penny, anyway. There are probably another thousand people around the globe that came up with the same idea as you have at more or less the same time. Implementation is what counts.
10. I have to plan every one of my steps before I get out of the building.
Just place one foot in front of the other. You do not have to plan everything, especially since your original ideas are certainly going to change as soon as you come in contact with the customer.
11. The idea is not complete yet.
Ideas are fluid; they are never complete or perfect. They change according to the circumstances, the feedback, the environment and a hundred other volatile factors.
12. I do not have the money to pay someone to do market research (that is what customer development is).
If you have more time than money, you should use it to educate yourself in customer development and do it yourself. It may not be perfect but it will be a good start towards the validation of your idea.
13. I am waiting for the economy to turn around, so that I may charge more.
History teaches us that the largest of fortunes have been made during economic crises. Take advantage of the situation and launch your business as soon as possible.
14. I have to find a technical founder first.
You do not necessarily need a technical founder, or indeed many founders. Just make sure you find external collaborators that you trust and can work well together.
I can elaborate a lot more on the above excuses but I will leave at that. Take this article as ‘food for thought’ and try to identify, which of the above limiting beliefs stops you from doing customer development.
For more information on lean startup methodology, you could take a look at my other blog posts.
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