The single most frequent mistake #entrepreneurs make during the #customer #development process

There are many assumptions we make about the product or the customer problem, which makes us develop solutions that may be really more complicated than required.

A friend and fellow entrepreneur I met on Friday was showing me a prototype (HML mock up with transitions, with some simple functions implemented) of this SaaS application. He had used a developer on hire at UpWork to develop the initial version. After speaking to and confirming the mockup (wireframes) with 10 different users he was off to develop and deliver the MVP. Overall he had spent about $8000 in design and development and had taken about 13 weeks to develop the MVP. Most of the time was spent back and forth with the design team for the HTML / CSS and the development team for confirming features and transitions.

Of the 13 weeks, his development team spent 2 weeks just implementing a sign up process, a user cancellation process, a payment process, a refund process, a login process, a password retrieval process, etc. Which he did not realize was the tax of developing a SaaS solution. Instead he took the 5 step approach to building a SaaS application and followed it religiously.

The critical mistake during customer development that most entrepreneurs make is to lead with the solution or product instead of spending time learning about the current solutions.

When he was showing it to potential customers, he found that most of them liked the product and said they’d use it and pay for it, if they could find value in 2-3 weeks. He was pretty happy given that most users were ready to pay for the product, which he did believe would solve a critical problem for them.

After developing the MVP and letting his users know about the product, he followed up by asking them to start to use the application. The first two days were great, with lots of feedback and improvements that they gave him about the product.

Then for the next 3 days there was radio silence. Even after his prodding and cajoling, most users were not using the application.

Instead of talking to users face to face, he instead decided to spend time with them (3 hours each user), shadowing them to understand why they were not using the application.

Turns out most of the users needed his product, but either A) did not remember it existed or B) were used to using their workaround – largely using a combination of email and cut and paste into Slack.

The biggest barrier to his adoption and usage was their existing process (although inefficient) was something they were used to and so were able to “optimize” it to make it quick and “fast” for their own usage. So much that they felt that using his product (which I can assure you would be vastly superior) would slow them down.

He then pivoted his product (not idea) to implement the one feature they all wanted as a Chrome plugin. Which worked like a charm.

He then had to remove the top 3 features and undo all the user login and management, infrastructure code and other remaining features, just to support the user behavior for their existing process.

The big takeaway for him was that when you have a hammer, everything seems like a nail.

The biggest takeaway for his wife (who is his cofounder) was not over engineer the solution.

The big takeaway for me was the failed customer development process. With all our biases (which all of us have) – we always tend to lead with the solution (“let me show you a demo”), instead of understanding the problem better to focus on delivering the one feature that matters, without all the bells and whistles.

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First Look – #PNCamp Day 1 (Discovery Hacking)

Exactly a month away from the inaugural #PNCamp and as schedules and attendees are being finalized, we are getting a lot of questions about what exactly is going to happen on D-Days, especially since we have told everyone we are not going to have one-to-many speaking sessions and workshops that have been the norm.

I spoke to Pallav Nadhani(FusionCharts) today, who is planning and designing the first day of #PNCamp, on 4th December, focusing exclusively on what we are calling the ‘Customer Discovery’ stage, the race against time to get those first 10 customers on board.

So much depends on those first 10 customers, and all of us product pros know this. It is not just the matter of the first customers, the first 10 are a validation of the time and effort you have built, a proof of the market that you’ve bet on and the first high-five entrepreneurship is going to give you.

What Pallav has envisioned for the first day of #PNCamp is a one day experiential learning bootcamp that will take a product entrepreneur across the entire journey he is going to take, from the initial idea to his first customers in a series of closed workshops. The small teams that we have planned will enable direct conversations and peer learning like no other format can.

Exciting, yes?

Let’s dive into the program then.

Entrepreneurship is a 7 year ‘bitch’

As a product entrepreneur, are you scared? At the end of this session, Pallav wants you to be. There are so many things that can go wrong in an entrepreneurial journey that starts off looking like a dream. The people who have been there, done that, will be talking to you about what they had to go through before they got to where they are. This is the session when you will be forced to think about what you have gotten yourself into. It isn’t going to be easy. You have to be strong if you want to weather the 7 year ‘bitch’.

Picking your battles

Are you building a product because you can or because you should? Is there a market for it? How do you know? Have you tested it? How have you tested it? What are your strengths that makes you believe you can win this battle? Get ready for a maelstrom of questions. Pallav and co. are going to help you chose the battlefield you are going to fight in. This is important, and you know how important it is. You should be the Indian Army fighting in Kargil, knowing that you have the upper hand. You shouldn’t be the US Army in Vietnam, fighting in a terrain you don’t know against an enemy you don’t understand.

Customer Development through design thinking

In the business of designing, building and selling products, the customer is sometimes left in the lurch. As Pallav says, you should be asking the customer what he wants to eat, and then try to give it to him. You shouldn’t be asking him if he wants Hyderabadi Biryani, for instance. Talking to the customer will give you more ammunition than you can ever use. But you should know how to do that, what signals to watch out for, and how to use the information you have gleaned. This session plans to make you masters at this.

Experiments never killed anybody

How do you know what is going to work when you are designing a product mockup, or when you are doing usability testing, or when you are testing a new kind of email form, or when you are booking an expensive ads in a magazine, or perhaps composing a quirky email communication to send out? You don’t. And that is why you do as many things as you can, and choose the best, which you replicate and optimize. But again, how do you do that? What are the tools, the processes to do this? This session is aimed at making you the greatest judge of such experiments.

Shameless is the new sexy

This is the session that is going to put all the disparate pieces of the puzzle together. Now that you have done all you can – you have designed a product for the market, you have studied customers, you have positioned your offering perfectly, and it’s time for you to go after the first customers, you need to remember something, a principle of sorts. Shameless is the new sexy. In short, no customer is going to come use your product because you have something special to give them – if it isn’t broken; they are not going to fix it. You are going to have to convince them. And for that, you are going to have to be shameless. Shameless really is the new sexy. And yes, this is the session I’m most looking forward to.

I think this is more than enough to get you excited for what we are trying to put together. More information will be forthcoming right here, and if you have any questions, remember the hashtag #PNCamp.

If you haven’t applied yet for #PNCamp, you can do so here