February is Customer Discovery Month here at Future Founders. For those that have never heard the term, Customer Discovery is one of the most important steps you can take at the start of your entrepreneurial journey. It’s a way to test ideas and assumptions before you begin the expensive, time-consuming process of building a product or a service.
Having worked with countless entrepreneurs in our Startup Bootcamp and Fellowship programs, we’ve helped many young startups refine their Customer Discovery process. To help you on your own Customer Discovery journey, our network of founders has shared some of their best insights and advice on the process.
Here’s what they had to say…
Did you conduct a formal Customer Discovery process before launching your business? If so, why did you view this as an important step?
Yes, we spent hundreds of hours talking with police officers, going on ride alongs, and sitting through current training sessions. -Chase Dittmer, Founder of Apex Officer
When we initially launched we were more focused on technology and fitting that technology into a market. This proved to be challenging. As we launched other technologies we ended up focusing on finding paying customers for the solutions we were building before writing a single line of code. We didn’t do this because we weren’t confident in our solution, but because it saved us valuable time and money in isolating a problem that was serious enough for people to want to have it solved. -Swarnav Pujari, Founder of TouchLight Innovations
Did any early conversations with potential customers cause you to pivot your business idea?
Yes – we went from an analytics platform to a data aggregation / discovery tool for college athletics recruiters [based on] an ongoing and organic customer discovery process. -Ben Weiss, Founder of Zcruit
Yes. I have found that customers are looking for brand name items in smaller quantities. Originally, I was selling off whole pallet lots to a very small number of customers. My profit margin was very slim. I figured I could sell smaller volumes to a larger number of customers, achieving a higher margin. This removed the sales aspect and tedious logistic tasks and issues I had. It simplified the process and improved my profitability. I was then able to scale the model. -Jasper Real, Founder of Elite Merchandisers Group
Absolutely. Pivots for us were in figuring out if problems were actual problems. Because our team and I have years of experience in the energy industry we had an idea of all the challenges the industry faced when it came to adoption of energy efficiency and generation technologies. We would pick a problem, hypothesize a solution – throw a quick prototype together and cold call people who we felt were impacted by that problem. When we learned it wasn’t worth paying for in their eyes because it wasn’t a real problem for them, we went back to the drawing board to pick the next problem to work on. -Swarnav Pujari, Founder of TouchLight Innovations
We started off as a fully B-C model, but our clients started asking for so many wholesale B-B orders that we made the large pivot to focus on that exclusively. -Isaac Hetzroni, Founder of Imprint Genius
Are there any additional insights you’d like to share about your experience with Customer Discovery?
I like to add customers to our “customer advisory board”. We take our top clients out to dinner as a group and show them all our new ideas, and get feedback from them. We find the information is beyond valuable and the clients are a lot more loyal afterwards -Isaac Hetzroni, Founder of Imprint Genius
Be stubborn when it comes to the final destination, but flexible with the route/path you take to get there. -Chase Dittmer, Founder of Apex Officer
Trial and error was how I figured out the customer. -Jasper Real, Founder of Elite Merchandisers Group
Actually do it, don’t just go through the motions. It will save you a lot of time and money on the back end. -Bailey Paxton, Founder of AgileCare Solutions
Don’t pivot too fast. Give an idea enough time to evaluate all dynamics of that specific market you are working on creating. There is a happy medium between holding on too long and pivoting too fast from an idea. -Swarnav Pujari, Founder of TouchLight Innovations
I wish I started the process sooner! Post production feedback saved me money when selecting future colors and patterns. -Kat Samardzija, Founder of Locker Lifestyle
Do you have any Customer Discovery resources (articles, podcasts, etc.) you’d like to share?
Fill out information requests on various websites and sit through their sales pitches. Take notes on anything that the sales rep says that works. -Chase Dittmer, Founder of Apex Officer
The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. -Bailey Paxton, Founder of AgileCare Solutions; Michael Black, Founder of Told Media
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