Finding Customers

with Cindy Alvarez

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Never stop validating

Cindy Alvarez

Lean Evangelist, UX Expert, Master of Experiments

Lessons Learned

Never stop validating. Your questions and your risks get smaller, but inquiry should never end.

Idea validation is part of everything. Make it a mindset.

The goal of validation is to keep you out of patterns that are broken.


Lesson: Finding Customers with Cindy Alvarez

Step #9 Validation: Never stop validating

Idea validation is something that can happen at anytime. So the difference between idea validation and customer discovery is ideas are part of everything. They're a part of a company, the forming of a company, the forming of a product, the part of a product feature, they're a part of your day-to-day process about how you hire, about how you interact with people. So they're smaller units. You don't really do customer discovery for a process improvement. If you decide that the way you're hiring people is terrible, you're not going out looking for a customer, you have a customer. It's your own internal organization. So you don't necessarily have to do interviews. You just have to take a hard look at what you've been doing and see if it makes sense. So idea validation is just something that should be part of your everyday, it shouldn't be a process. You shouldn't be asking who should do this. Everyone should do this. It's something you build a culture around.

Customer development is very specifically, will there be a market for this product, idea or service while I think it's great for everyone to do customer development, it's not actually necessary. It's very important that the founders do it because it's their baby, but you can have a lot of it done by a single person as long as the founders have complete confidence in that person to deliver the truth. When I was at KISSmetrics I did a lot of our customer development. Heaton and Neil would also do it but always more important is that they had ultimate trust that when I came back and I said "I talked to people and they don't want this." They didn't say, "No, no, no. But we should build it. No, no, no. But it's a great idea." They'd say, "Okay. If customers aren't going to buy this, we're not going to invest in building it." And so having that trust made it possible for one person to do the bulk of the customer development.

Idea validation is exactly what it sounds like. It's validating an idea that you have makes sense and that there's a market for it. So for any great idea we have, we as humans tend to look for supporting evidence and that's just what we do by default, what our brain are set up to do. I'm sure it saved us from wooly mammoths in the past, but it doesn't help us here. And so it's where we take this idea and we'd say, "Let's for a second assume that the opposite is true. Let's assume that this idea is false. Now we'll look for counters to that."

And so we just do that bit by bit. And this can happen on any scale. I actually have been jokingly talking about customer development for process a lot and it may be your idea, your assumption is we need to have a staff meeting every week or else people won't know what they're working on. And then someone say, "Is that true? What really happens in this staff meetings?" And everyone says everyone says they put their laptop and you talk for five minutes and the rest of the time you answer email while not listening to anyone else. And they say, "Well, the core idea of a staff meeting was that so we all knew what we're doing, right?"

And you come out of this meeting and you have no idea what anyone else in this room is doing, right? And it was like, "Yeah." Okay, well that's an idea that didn't work. And so we have to be able to challenge this every time these come up and it's not just your product. It's everything along the way. And when you get in this mindset it becomes a habit and it's incredibly frustrating at first but it becomes this habit where every time you say, "Well, we'll do this and then it will work." You started to say, "Wait. Is it going to work? Let's try it. And then let's revisit, did it work? Should we try something else?" Let's not stay in patterns that are broken.

You never stop doing customer development but the questions may get smaller. Starting a company, that's a very high risk, that's a very broad open-ended question. It's very important that you'd be as right as possible. You're building a new product but you have a stable company. It becomes a little less so. Features, the risk is again smaller. You're always going to benefit from rigorously testing those assumptions. But if you build a feature that turns out to not be a great feature, it's bad for morale. You've wasted a couple of months but you're probably not endangering your entire company, so it does change and this scale can get smaller but it's always useful.

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