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Building in Public: Lessons learned from 100 customer discovery calls
This is the first post in our “Build in Public” series, where we share lessons from the field as we build AssetMule.
Before we dive into the topic at hand, why share our lessons publicly? Two reasons really…
First, Dane, Jorge, and I are obsessed with startups. We’ve each been working in and on startups, in one form or another, for decades and have become “students of the game”. In that time, we’ve benefited tremendously from the lessons of those who came before us. We feel it’s our turn to give back and share the lessons learned from our journey as we build AssetMule.
And second, a more selfish reason. Having been through our fair share of startups, we know we’re going to miss each phase as they pass and look back at these times with fond but clouded memories. By recording these lessons as we go, we hope to have a clearer picture to reflect back on…almost like our own startup journal or photo album 🙂
So without further ado, let’s get into the first topic in the series…customer discovery.
What is customer discovery?
The concept of customer discovery was first introduced in 2005 by Steve Blank in his incredible book, Four Steps to Epiphany, and later adopted by The Lean Startup, Y Combinator, and many other industry leaders. Today, it’s a fundamental practice in launching startups.
At its core, customer discovery is a process for validating and refining business ideas by engaging potential customers early on, testing your assumptions, and iterating on your strategy based on feedback.
The goal is to keep customers at the forefront of your product and business development process so you end up building something customers actually want and achieve product-market fit.
How we approached customer discovery at AssetMule
Over the last 2.5 months, we’ve spoken to 100 potential customers as part of our customer discovery process.
We broke these conversations up into two phases:
Problem Discovery & Validation
Solution Discovery & Validation
Let’s dive into each of these phases, how we approached the conversations, and what we were able to gain from each phase.
Phase I: Problem Discovery & Validation
Prior to kicking off our customer discovery process, Dane, Jorge, and I had decided that we were interested in building a product and company in sales and marketing tech as we each had previous experience, a deep understanding, and a strong network in the space.
After bouncing around some ideas, we threw five or so into a spreadsheet and voted on our level of interest in each from a score of 1-5. What bubbled to the top was an idea to improve the process of creating sales assets.
While we had some assumptions about the problems that existed in this space from our own experience, we set out to meet with sales and product marketing professionals (the personas we deemed as potential customers) to better understand their current processes and pain points.
We spoke with about 50 sales and product marketing professionals during this phase. We started with people in our network before expanding more broadly through cold outreach. We didn’t have a solution to pitch or a product to show. We were purely focused on discovering and validating a common problem shared among this group.
During these conversations, we focused on asking situational questions as well as questions to uncover and test the severity of problems:
What sales assets do you use most frequently?
Who is responsible for creating these sales assets?
How are these sales assets created?
Where do you store them?
How do you share them with prospects?
How do you measure if they’re being used? The impact they’re having with buyers?
What’s the hardest most frustrating thing you experience today with sales assets?
Have you found any solutions on the market that solve this?
Have you tried solving the problem yourself?
What don’t you like about the solutions you’ve tried?
A couple of trends emerged from these conversations:
Product marketing is generally responsible for creating sales assets
Sales reps want to personalize these assets for each of their prospects
Product marketing can’t move fast enough to deliver on these requests
Sales reps go rogue and create their own personalized assets
The branding/messaging is all over the place, there are dozens of different versions of assets many with incorrect or outdated information, there’s no visibility on what’s working/what’s not, and it’s the “wild west”
Resources are wasted from sales reps spending time creating their own assets and product marketing creating assets no one is using
While there are existing solutions available in the market, they generally focus on enterprises and are out of reach for most startups and scaleups
From these trends, we started to get a vision of what a possible solution could look like. We developed a basic prototype and set out for the next phase of our customer development process.
Phase II: Solution Discovery & Validation
With a prototype in hand, we scheduled another 50 conversations with sales and product marketing professionals. We approached these conversations in very much the same way as the previous ones, starting with situational and problem-focused questions, but followed this up with a brief demo of the prototype.
The goal of the prototype was to validate that we were heading in the right direction with our product vision but, more importantly, to further discover what would be needed to make it a viable solution.
In most cases, these insights came naturally as we demoed the prototype, but we also used a couple of questions to prompt them:
What do you think of our solution? What do you like/dislike?
Would our solution solve your problems? Why/why not?
Would you use our solution? What might prevent you from using it?
Would you pay for our solution? What would prevent you from buying it?
What could be done to improve our solution? What features are missing?
What is needed to justify paying for our solution?
As trends started to emerge from these conversations, we documented and tallied them in a spreadsheet. This helped us iterate on the prototype in real-time, further enhancing the quality of these conversations. It also helped us prioritize features as we began to scope our Minimal Viable Product (MVP).
Phase III: Minimal Viable Product (Coming Soon…)
After 100 conversations, we now feel we have a solid hypothesis on who our target customer is, the problems they’re experiencing, and what a viable solution could look like.
We’ve iterated on our prototype to develop an MVP and have identified a handful of design partners from our customer discovery conversations who are eager to solve the problem at hand and have agreed to test our MVP and help us shape the product for general availability.
While 100 conversations may seem like a lot, it’s truly just the beginning. It’s now time to put the product in the hands of users, understand how they use it (or if they use it at all), and learn how we can transform our MVP into a product they can’t live without.
That will be the next topic in our Build in Public series. Stay tuned and we’ll see you on the other side…