After introducing Lean startup in the last episode, this installment focuses on good ways to communicate with customers.

Don't do what customers say they want, understand their problems and solve them.

-- Per Haug Kogstad (Tandberg founder)

Problems, Products and Markets

Most startups begin with a brilliant new product idea. Most startups fail. While pulling an ingenious new product idea from your lower torso may work on occasion, a more systematic approach is to perform a sober analysis of the following three aspects:

Perhaps the worst way to answer these questions is to ask the customer what they want.

A more promising approach is to observe and listen to the customer, so as to gain a deep understanding of their problems. Focus on their big problems, the ones they'll be glad to pay you to solve.

You need to differentiate between cool and interesting problems and real problems for real people. Laura Klein gives some examples:

Admittedly, this is hard to predict and there is no guarantee of success. Is playing Angry Birds while waiting for a train really a vital problem? While there is no guarantee of success, and yes, most startups fail, early validation of product ideas ensures you fail as cheaply as possible, allowing you more shots at success.

Customer Interviews

Justin Wilcox suggests you start by asking your customer two introductory questions:

With that context clarified, ask the following five questions: Notice that we are trying to steer away from hypothetical questions, in search of genuine problems that might be used to start a new business or grow an existing one.

After the customer interview, you need to go away and figure out if you can build a solution to any of their big problems.

Solution Interviews

Rather than pitch a proposed solution to the customer with a demo that ends with them saying: "Thanks very much, we'll get back to you", Wilcox recommends doing a Solution Interview instead.

The general idea is not to pitch your solution, rather to engage the customer, build trust, build a partnership.

User Testing

If the Solution Interview went well, build a prototype solution (MVP) and observe the user interacting with it. Don't fall into the trap of building a broad MVP that is crappy and unusable. Instead, build a usable, but limited, version of your product.

Laura Klein gives some tips on how to get good feedback from customers, based on years of watching mistakes made by folks lacking a user-experience background:

Quantitative vs Qualitative research

Quantitative research, for example A/B testing or Funnel analysis, measures what real people are actually doing with your product. It's statistically significant.

Qualitative research, for example customer interviews and observing users and understanding their behavior, gives important insights, but is not statistically significant.

Quantitative research tells you what. Qualitative research tells you why. You need both.

Miscellaneous Tips

Some general tips taken from a talk by Atlassian Product Manager Sherif Mansour on Building the right thing:

Perl Monks References

External References