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Finding Your First Customers

Building a new product or business is a really exciting process. There is no feeling quite like the feeling of seeing an idea through to it’s final product. What many founders forget to consider is the day after launch day. The business needs to sustain itself, at the very least to cover the upfront setup and production costs.

We’re all well aware that customers pay for products or services, which generates income for the business and assists with growing and sustaining the business. Therefore, if no customers purchase products or services from the business, there is no growth and the business will rapidly crumble. Today, we’ll discuss how to find your first customers, creating a solid foundation for business growth.

Identify your proposed customer

In the early stages of customer development, we have little to no data to reference. At most, we have historical data from competitors and speculative data based on our own perceptions. This is a fine place to start. The approach we’ll take here is to create an assumed customer and then attempt to test our assumption.

Using the data you have available, construct a customer persona who you assume is the ideal customer for your product. Ideally, this customer is of a specific age segment, can be described by the activities they enjoy and has a clear need which your product addresses. For example, a customer persona for Uber customers could be a 20-30 something, tech-aware individual who owns a smartphone and enjoys the conveniences of technology.

Determine your riskiest assumption

The lean methodology speaks of a riskiest assumption. This is an aspect of your assumed persona which, if incorrect, would cause your business to fail. Using the Uber example above, an assumption could be that the customer is prepared to connect their credit card to their Uber account. If the customer isn’t prepared to do this, there is no means of payment and the business would fail. Another assumption could be that the customer is prepared to get into a vehicle with no visible company branding. This assumption is usually a foundational aspect of the business.

Test, test and test

Your next goal is to confirm whether or not your assumed customer is in fact the customer you’re after. Your additional goal here is to confirm whether or not your proposed offering solves this customer’s biggest need. How you’ll do this is by constructing a selection of questions and asking as many customers as possible. When constructing your questions, be sure to not lead your customer to a specific answer. If you’re offering a boutique private taxi service, asking your customer if they enjoy riding in a fancy car is leading them down the garden path. Spend some time architecting a small set of questions to specifically test your assumptions.

Success Criteria

This is where you measure yourself. Be sure to set a success criteria before you begin talking with customers. This ensures you know where you stand at all times and can move on as soon as possible if you find you’ve not been successful. An example would be determining how many potential customers you want to speak to and how many of them need to “buy in” to your offering for this to be deemed successful. You could set, for example 6 out of 10 conversations as your success criteria.

Get out of the building

This is the aspect of customer acquisition which requires the most initial physical outlay. Whether in time and energy or purely in time, this is where you get out of the building. Much like a nature documentary, this is where you meet your prospective customer at their natural watering hole and conduct your customer interviews. Armed with your crafted questions and your success criteria, you now get to work and speak to who you believe to be your potential customers. Be sure to take notes, record the conversations (with your customer’s permission) or have a partner with you to take notes.

Repeat and refine

Your notes are one of the most important elements of this process. Without your notes, you don’t have a way of reviewing your conversations and what your potential customers are actually looking for. If you find your success criteria wasn’t met, this is where the magic begins to happen. You read through your notes, determine where your original assumptions were incorrect, adjust your assumptions and repeat the process. For example, you may find that your customer isn’t interested in your boutique taxi service, yet their parents are weary of driving in the city. You now have a different customer, yet a similar problem.

Rinse, repeat, learn and refine. After several pivots, you should have a very clear idea of who your customer is, what needs they experience day to day and a rough idea of what they’d do or pay to have that need resolved.

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