Hi, I'm Jonathan. I'm a first year TI:GER MBA student and my team is working on a new way to sort stem cells. I thought I'd tell you a little bit about our customer discovery process...
Everyone wants our technology! Our technology is perfect! Show me the money!
Those are the mantras that every entrepreneur wants to believe. The blood, sweat, and tears that went into developing a technology should justify its widespread appeal and commercializability. Sometimes this is the case, but usually not. Kevin Costner certainly led us astray when he uttered those now famous words “build it and they will come.”
If I have learned anything from being in the TI:GER program, it’s the fact that you have to get out of the building and talk to people. The other option is to create beautiful business plans, estimate market growth, and decide which island you will buying. The problem with that approach is that as soon as you show your plan to a real entrepreneur or potential investor, the first question you will get is “how do you know?” You will not be able to respond in a convincing manner. Customer interviews are essential to understanding your technology’s appeal to consumers (not guaranteed) and the degree to which it addresses a pain point (may be not at all). The goal is to gather as much data as possible from the people who will buy your product or service to justify moving forward – affording you the insight you will need to tweak your product, pivot, or go back to the drawing board.
This process is tough. It takes a dedicated team to ask the right questions and deal with answers that may run contrary to original expectations. There will be ups and downs, but in the end you will be grateful for the experience because you will identify a path forward (even if its not the one you set out on originally). Trust me – my TI:GER team is learning this in real time.
The CEO at my previous company was fond of Colin Powell and often shared the following quotation with clients (from his book It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership):
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It's an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms. It's a mind-set that assumes (or hopes) that today's realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear and predictable fashion. Pure fantasy. In this sort of culture, you won't find people who pro-actively take steps to solve problems as they emerge. Here's a little tip: don't invest in these companies.”
If you don’t seek out new information from customers you will become complacent and severely limit your market upside. Talk to people, get their insights, and solve the problems that customers want solved. Don’t take my word for it, listen to the general.