Customer development is well-published topic, so I won’t spend time defining it or rehashing it’s benefits. This post is all about how to get started with custdev in a bootstrapped environment. Custdev can be used in any business environment, but it’s particularly useful for bootstrapped companies, where budgets are usually tighter. Also, it’s best to use the customer development process when starting on a new business or product, as opposed to trying to add it in later in the product development cycle.
In a nutshell, the goal of customer development is to help get you to a product that appeals to customers in a decent-sized market. You accomplish this by constantly validating your assumptions about your new product and making changes when those assumptions fall apart.
If you’re considering bringing a new product to market then customer development is going to be your best friend (or your worst enemy, depending on the results). Before you spend any time actually developing your product you should start the process of validating it. The validation process itself is pretty simple. The methods depend on how your new product relates to your existing products.
1. Related Products. If your new idea is a product related to an existing product that you have then you already likely have a built-in base of customers who could quickly validate your idea. Try to setup in-person meetings or phone calls with a few of those customers. Tell them about your new product and see if they are interested. Test their interest by asking them to start paying for the product then and there.
2. Completely New Market. If the product is in a new market then you’ll need to rely on the more traditional customer development methodology. Create a simple PPC campaign with a landing page that directs users to a mailing list. The number of entries to the mailing list is a rough approximation of the potential for the idea. Try to conduct interviews with the mailing list members and validate your idea.
Review Your Learnings
Are you getting the interest in your new product that you expected? If not, it may be time to pivot. Use the learnings from your interviews to make adjustments. If there is no interest at all in your product then this is a good time to cut your losses and let the idea die. If you decide to pivot then you should start from scratch with steps 1 and 2 above and validate the new solution.
If you did get some serious interest in your product then you should move ahead and start creating prototypes. Conduct another round of interviews and demos for the prototype. From there you can revise the prototype or move full-on into production.
This is a simplified approach to customer development. I whole-heartedly recommend you read some of the following books to get a more complete understanding of the process. Comments welcome!
What is Customer Development by Eric Ries
The Four Steps to the Epiphany (Affiliate Link) by Steve Blank
Image Credit: jurvetson on Flickr