Big Picture Customer Development Revisited

Working with four startups at the same time has steepened my customer development learning curve (and also explains why it has been a month since my last update).   To help balance the load, I’ve brought on a conversion designer and a researcher; we’re finally firing on all cylinders. 

Our customer development goal with every startup essentially boils down to a race to be able to focus on growing the business.  But in order to avoid wasting effort and money on tactical growth drivers, the following steps need to be completed first:

  • Validate the product/service is gratifying a reasonable percentage of users.
  • Create a value proposition that will attract the right type of users and pull them through the conversion funnel to gratification (and ultimately a transaction). 
  • Eliminate friction from the conversion funnel. 
  • Fine tune a business model that supports scalable customer acquisition channels. 

If these steps have been executed well it is relatively easy to grow a sustainable business.  But many startups skip these steps and jump right into trying to grow the business – making their job much harder or even impossible.  Some will get lucky, but most will fail.  

Given the importance of getting customer development right, I’m certain that eventually most startups will contract a specialist to help them navigate the challenges of this pre-scale phase.  I’m often asked how I plan to expand 12in6 to help more startups.  Most people are surprised when I tell them I don’t have a desire to expand the business.  I really enjoy being able to work hands on with two new startups per quarter.  If I built a large team to fill the current void of specialists, I’d be too busy managing the team.  This would mean less time learning how to improve my customer development approach. 

As I explained in my last post, I’m now validating that a startup’s product is gratifying users before I commit to working with them.  While I love to hear from as many funded startups as possible, I can barely scratch the surface of the number of startups that need help.  If I don’t have the capacity to help you, here are a few others that specialize in customer development:  (I haven’t dug into their approach enough to be able to endorse them, but I encourage you to check them out)

If you are specializing in customer development or know someone else that you can recommend, please add names/recommendations in the comments. The main things to consider when evaluating a specialist is their track record building successful companies.  And be sure to check references (especially around chemistry with the team).

I have been sharing discoveries on Twitter (follow me @ and hopefully  I’ll resume regular blog posts next week (after I get back from a short vacation in Hawaii).