Reviewing The Customer Development Manifesto

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I’m always drawn back, when reviewing material, to Steve Blank’s The Customer Development Manifesto. This happens most often when hearing about other people’s startups but always when I contemplate mine. So I wanted to tell you about my drivers for this material.

In the past, I’ve worked on my ideas and when I’ve explained it to some, they of course, have said that will never work. I suppose what happens, is that after a while, you stop listening to them. As no matter, what you present to them, they’ll say the same thing. You stop making progress and to some degree, you get tired of hearing about the negative. Thus you just block them out.

Now this can become a tad dangerous, if working in isolation, with no form of feedback to help alter the path you are taking towards building out your idea. Hopefully into a business that is meeting your vision and objectives; whilst not burning through all your cash.

So how did I start to break this working in isolation, ignoring all those that couldn’t glimpse my vision?

I started by participating in programs and groups, where there were more people like myself (that had similar frustrations) and that wanted to learn about the wider entrepreneur world. Thats the key, I believe, is to start to work out how to educate yourself, based on the startup lessons learned by others.

Then I engaged, more advisors. The funny thing was, as I started to engage with them, a pattern started to form. That was they didn’t know what to do to help me, if I didn’t already have customers and a detailed business plan. I can remember vividly in one meeting, being told, the solution for the next step, was to get a customer. I walked out thinking to myself, that’s easier said then done. As significant more work was required, before I could actively fund the build and production environment for a single customer.

None could also show me a successful business plan, that had been used to grow a tech startup either. Made me very worried, when I heard statements like its confidential or go google ‘business plan’.

Eventually I found a new advisor and mentor, that guided me through the earlier stages and helped me to create, a structured approach to interview and discover what my potential customers were really like. As part of that structured approach, we included questions, to determine also, if our hypothesis about a revenue model were true or false.

Its how to break out of the ‘working in isolation’ scenario. Start getting in front of your potential customers talking to them in a structured manner. You need to show professionalism and that you are focused.

In my case, what we discovered is that unfortunately at that time, we didn’t have a viable business model within the target geography and market that we were looking at. I had at that stage, nearly burnt through all my cash, and decided to park the startup idea. The startup idea, was to build a Cloud hosted SaaS marketplace, leveraging Australian uISVs looking to sell across the internet. Around that time or shortly there after in 2008, Apple’s App Store started its meteoric rise.

I was disillusioned after parking my idea. I’d invested a lot of time and energy after all. So I went cycling a lot, thinking about what to do next. I continued being involved in the local tech startup community and over a coffee chat one day (somewhere in 2009), some one pointed to Steve Blank’s Customer Development process.

After I looked at some of the material, I thought geez, there’s a lot of elements and stories about lessons learnt here that I really associated with. I’ve been through a lot of this Customer Discovery stuff before. What I learnt, which Steve keeps reiterating is:

“There Are No Facts Inside Your Building, So Get Outside”

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