Customer Development is hot. Lean Startups too.
Customer Development is gaining momentum thanks to Steve Blank’s book – The Four Steps to the Epiphany and the uptake of its principles by many startups. The Lean Startup model has emerged as a favorite amongst startups thanks to the work of Eric Ries.
Why have both of these concepts – Customer Development and Lean Startups – gained such huge popularity?
It’s because the instant you start reading Steve Blank’s book (and killer blog) and Eric Ries’ blog (or presentations, etc.) you repeatedly say to yourself, “Holy Shit! I’ve made all those mistakes!”
These guys are basically saying, “Have you done this? Ouch. We know it hurts. We’ve done it too.”
“Oh, you did that too? Ya, been there, done that. Sucked big time. Wasted a lot of time and money. Ya, we’ve failed.”
When you read their content, you can’t help but think, “They’re talking about me!”
- Didn’t validate enough with customers early on? — check!
- Hired someone to lead sales and/or marketing before we knew exactly what we were selling & who we were selling to? — check!
- Had unpleasant board meetings where numbers presented didn’t meet expectations? — check!
- And so on and so forth? — check!
That makes for a compelling sales pitch. “Has this happened to you? It has? Well let me tell you how to fix it…”
The Customer Development and Lean Startup models are frameworks, like Ruby on Rails or religion. No framework is perfect. It can’t be, nor does it have to be. Frameworks are guides for doing things a certain way that may prove useful and successful for you. Religion certainly has its fanatics, but there’s a much larger population of people who pluck out what they want (and need) from it, ignoring the rest. In my mind that’s OK because the framework is still providing worthwhile guidance. Please note: I don’t want to get into a religious or philosophical debate on religion – I realize how people can misuse and abuse religion for their own benefit in horrible ways. But I’m thinking more along the lines of plucking out, “Thou shalt not kill” vs. “You can’t eat pork” (bacon ftw!).
Most entrepreneurs have gone through many painful experiences building their startups — experiences described by Steve, Eric and others (Dave McClure, Cindy Alvarez, and more — last link is a Google Group worth following) — such that we feel a kindred connection, and are looking for better ways of doing things.
If you were already getting close to customers, validating carefully, not overspending on sales & marketing prematurely, etc. before Customer Development and Lean Startup models got super popular then that’s great! Kudos to you! No one is saying these concepts are unique or brand new. But they’re hitting a nerve with a lot of startups now, and that’s good. These models (and the discussions surrounding them) are important in helping a lot of startup entrepreneurs learn from their past mistakes, collectively with others. But they’re not perfect. They’re guides on the path to potential startup success, not guarantees. But they sure can help…