The number one recommendation I make to entrepreneurs I meet during MergeLane QuickPitch events is to read this book: Talking to Humans: Success starts with understanding your customers. Why? Because so often I speak with entrepreneurs who have not spoken to anyone outside of their personal circles before spending countless hours on their business. This always catches my attention, because I was once this entrepreneur.
When I started my first business, WildeGuide, I hired a UX designer immediately. I spent $6000 to think through the logic of and design beautiful screens for an app that I later learned nobody wanted. I was so excited about creating something that I designed a solution to a problem that didn’t exist.
Reflecting back on this experience, I understand my strong wish to bring something to life. I didn’t lose that much money, and I can see that my $6,000 bought a lot of learning. Yet, if I had done any customer discovery ahead of time, I would have saved this money and even more time.
My central error was not talking to any potential users before starting a prototype. Although I know now that this point is in the “startup 101 playbook,” I was a novice and had no idea.
I was afraid to talk to customers because I didn’t want to hear negative feedback. Once I had spoken to potential users, I created a new solution that did address a meaningful problem in the market. I pivoted. This word makes the process sound easy, but it can be emotionally draining for founders. This marked a “trough” phase in my founder journey, and it took me a while to shed the funk and get started on starting over.
When I meet founders who have made the mistakes I made, I feel scared. I’ve learned these lessons. I understand that talking to customers can be daunting. It can feel vulnerable. But the benefits far outweigh the risks. You save time and money. You gain more confidence in your path and among your stakeholders. You may get ahead of a potential pivot down the road. Potential users start begging you to finish your product!
Steve Blank, one of the parents of design-centered thinking, says, “There are no facts inside the building so get the heck outside.”
For a quick, smart, entertaining look at how to do customer discovery, read Talking to Humans.
So often I speak with entrepreneurs who have not spoken to anyone outside of their personal circles before spending countless hours on their business. This always catches my attention, because I was once this entrepreneur.