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If you look at it this way then the point of startups is to run as many experiments as possible through minimizing feedback loops, learning quicker, and having relevant metrics.
I first read about the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) by Eric Ries, if you haven’t heard about it already check out:
And I believe the most important take away from these posts is in this quote:
Some caveats right off the bat. MVP, despite the name, is not about creating minimal products. If your goal is simply to scratch a clear itch or build something for a quick flip, you really don’t need the MVP. In fact, MVP is quite annoying, because it imposes extra overhead. We have to manage to learn something from our first product iteration. In a lot of cases, this requires a lot of energy invested in talking to customers or metrics and analytics.
For my own startup my first MVP was the aggregate individual twitter feeds (example http://twitter.com/jobs_losangeles) and the purpose of them was to learn if people were even searching for jobs on twitter, how often, the rate of customer acquisition, etc
My next MVP was to list all the cities I was publishing Jobs in on my own website http://www.jobshoots.com/ market it through twitter, and collect analytics and solicit user feedback through direct email.
Next I took everything I learned and begun talking to a bunch of potential customers in the jobs space: recruiting firms, staffing firms, executive search, temp firms, consulting firms, etc with the goal of learning how they operate, who the major players are, what tools they use, who in their firms are the decision makers, what problems they are currently facing etc.
And finally we are launching our next release in 2 days and test our assumption of our business model out in the market place! Stay tuned for that update.
Don’t get me wrong though this process wasn’t as smooth as I made it out to be. On more than a couple occasions my co-founder and I got completely sidetracked with the wrong type of customers, we half built a useless product, and we lost focus many of time. It’s really hard when your hearing input from many very different types of customers who’s problems and need are different but everything seems to blend together after awhile. Keeping organized and synthesizing all that information helps a lot though!
Let’s remember two quotes, one by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and one by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.
Eric Schmidt: “Let’s not check the rearview mirror, or else we’ll drive off the road.”
Jeff Bezos: “A different way to organize your energies that can be very effective is to be competitor-focused. If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering. We have found that, on the Internet, “me too” strategies seem not to work very well.”
Yesterday, there was some ridiculous discussion about the death of RSS. It started with Steve Gillmor, moved on to Mike Arrington, continued with peHUB, and got so out of hand that Fred had to post about it. Read Fred’s post if you need more help understanding why it was a ridiculous discussion.
As a startup entrepreneur, there is definitely a lesson to be learned here: Understand who your real customers are and focus on solving their problems. Ignore the competition and ignore the tech mob. This is something we’ve taken to heart with Postling.
Obviously, Postling is a very young product. But we do have a clear understanding of who our customers are and what the problem is: Business adoption of social media is here to stay, but there is no unified interface from which to interact with all the different tools one needs. Businesses are spending too much time learning and using the ever growing number of social media tools and platforms. That time could be spent focusing on what they know best, which is growing their business.
When we launched Postling, a bunch of the comments we saw on TechCrunch, Mashable, and ReadWriteWeb were centered around “Ping.fm does this and supports all these other social networks” and “Posterous already lets me do this plus has all of these other features.” Ping.fm and Posterous are great products, but they are solving different problems for different customers. So instead of playing “feature catch-up”, we launched some unique features of our own:
- All comments left on your content are pulled into one place, regardless of if it is from your blogging platform or Twitter or Facebook or Flickr.
- You can publish status updates and photos directly to your Facebook Fan Pages.
- You can choose where you publish to, instead of ignoring community context and blasting it out everywhere.
It’s been one month since we launched Postling, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the response. We have more customers than we would have expected and have been working on various partnerships that will allow hundreds of thousands of people to benefit from using Postling. And we’ll keep listening to our customers and learning about what they need and ignoring the rest.
One of the first things you do when starting the customer development series quest with your startup is to have an assumption of what “market type” you are. Depending on which category you fall into leads to drastically different strategies when developing your startup.
Briefly there are 4 market types:
- Existing market - you need to be faster/better than your existing competitors
- Resegmented market (price) - you need to be lower cost and just good enough for your customers
- Resegmented market (niche) - you need to identify a group of existing customers with specific needs not being addressed by existing competitors
- New product in a new market - you need to create a product that gives your customers the ability to do something which couldn’t be done before
Here are two personal examples.
My startup Jobshoots is initially focused on helping companies hire hyper local talent faster and more efficiently using Twitter. Our initial assumption was that we were resegmenting a market into a existing niche but through lots of discussions with customers and industry innovators we changed our market type assumption to existing market with a bit of price resegmentation (since we are cheaper than competitors).
This change in assumptions allowed us to focus on what our current customers are really concerned about: time to hire (speed) and cost of job postings. What’s also beneficial to us is we clearly know who are competitors are, what they base competition on, and an assumption on how to position ourselves.
My second example is my friends startup Santasti (www.santasti.com) the worlds first palette cleansing beverage. Their product is allowing wine tasters to do something they have never done before, cleanse their palette with a water type beverage. Their assumption is they are in a new product in a new market and much of their time has been spent on educating their consumers on what Santasti is and why they need their product.
For more inspiration on this subject and to begin to understand what market type you are in check out http://steveblank.com/2009/03/26/supermac-war-story-4-repositioning-supermac-market-type-at-work/
If you are just hearing about Customer Development for the first time start by buying:
"The Four Steps to the Epiphany" - http://www.amazon.com/Four-Steps-Epiphany-Steven-Blank/dp/0976470705
In my opinion this is one of the best business books ever written and I literally keep it with me wherever I go (seriously :)
Then once you start digging more into the process check out this great definitive resource guide about customer development
And make sure you follow these people, go to all their talks, and meet them
Hi my name is Chris McCann and I am an entreprenuer and writing living here in Palo Alto. I used to formally write on http://entrepreneurialactivism.com/ my old person blog but I wanted to switch over to Tumblr to try out the blogging platform and to begin to reduce my long blog posts to shorter posts, pictures, and links I find.
My Tumblr is going to be focused on the customer development process started by Steve Blank and examples of my own startup company using this process and living through the ups and downs of the startup lifestyle.
Check back often and subscribe to my feed to keep up to date with all the cool things I post!