More Customer Development Cycles

I kicked off this quarter’s two new customer development projects earlier this week. It seems like I just started with Dropbox and Eventbrite, but we’ve actually completed the full six months with Eventbrite and we’re in the last few weeks with Dropbox. Eventbrite and Dropbox were really the “Beta” customers for my six-month customer development program. I am extremely grateful to both for taking an early risk on my program. We’ve made enormous progress, but you never really finish customer development, so I look forward to continuing to help both however/whenever I can. Going into these next two projects, I feel like I have a much clearer understanding of the customer development success hurdles and opportunities so we can make even faster progress.

On a personal note, I’m thrilled that I can make a viable business out of working with startups on their customer development. I couldn’t imagine doing a job that would be more fun. This is by far the most exciting time in the company creation process – watching the startup get validation for years of hard development work.

One of my biggest challenges these days is keeping focus on execution while still finding time to select the next quarter’s startups. I’m averaging 15-20 introductions per month for the two spots I have to fill each quarter. Of course in this economy, this is a much better problem to have than the alternative.

I’ve gotten fairly efficient at determining which companies are a good fit. We start with a quick 10 minute phone call to see if the company is too early, late or competitive with an existing/previous client. I then give the founder/CEO a quick overview of my background and the customer development program. If they are still interested, I ask if they would be willing to have their users fill out a brief survey. This gives me some idea about early user perceptions as to how well the product meets their needs, the intensity of those needs and potential substitute products. When I combine this with potential viable angles to approach customer acquisition and information about the business model, I can quickly narrow down the list. So for the two openings for May I have it narrowed down to 7 very good fit companies. But I’m reluctant to fill both spots because I’m getting several more interesting intros each week. I’ll probably commit one of the spots in the next couple of weeks and leave the other open through the end of March.

The whole process is pretty time consuming, but essential for finding the right companies.

I apologize to anyone who I’ve been introduced to recently if this seems a bit impersonal. Hopefully this blog post will help to put it in context a bit… If we do end up working together in the future, you’ll be happy to know that I’m not spending several hours per day with prospective new startups. Once it looks like a good fit, I’ll definitely spend the time to make sure we have the right chemistry.

One other quick request for anyone that is considering working together… Please wait until we both agree there is a good potential fit before reaching out to my existing/former CEOs. As you can empathize, they are very busy. Once we agree it’s a good fit, I feel very comfortable having you contact them.

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