Updated: Mar 31, 2022
It’s code for “Isn’t there an easier way to do this?” or even “Can I skip this part?”
Without exception every business that tries to understand its customer reaches this point - some more quickly than others. For some it’s the pressure of an upcoming investor meeting and the fifty other questions they might be asked besides “Who’s your customer?” and “Tell me about your traction”. For others it’s frustration because they can’t find their customer. And for others it’s because they don’t like what they’re hearing: their customers don’t seem to need their product.
Identifying your customer is fun. Problem-solving, empathy, mission, it’s engaging and gets everyone focused. In a room with friends or a new team. Usually without any real customers in the room. Theory.
I’m not against that for a short while, but it’s pointless unless you’re going to test those theories and prove or disprove them.
That’s validation and it’s the hard part.
It’s hard for a bunch of reasons:
Finding the right customers is hard.
Listening to feedback – if it doesn’t align with our expectations – is hard.
Making sense of feedback, particularly when it’s inconsistent or ambiguous – is hard.
Finding time is hard with a million other things to do.
You’re never done – validation has no end - and that's really hard.
I’m a founder and I understand all these reasons; they plague me every day. I’d much rather build product or write a blog than make time to talk to a customer to listen to what they need. I’d much rather believe success will just come when people see what I have to offer. I’m tempted every day by “Build it and they will come”. And even “Run some google ads to get the ball rolling”.
But I fight these urges and I think you should too. But you need a plan.
1. Make some time – two or three hours a week is all you need. An hour to reflect on what you know and what you need to find out. An hour to talk to a customer. 30 minutes to write up and update.
You have no business without customers, this is your most important investment in time.
2. Employ some structure – you want your customer interviews to run freely, but always define your minimum expectations; the specific hypotheses you want to test.
That way, you keep your validation focused on the areas that will help you progress – and avoid the risk of confusion through inconsistent or random feedback.
3. Set some targets - defining how many customers need to prove a hypothesis before you regard it as validated is a great way to create a sense of completion; then you can feel ‘done’ on this.
4. Try some different methods – we default to customer interviews because they’re best for diving deep and building rapport, but supplement these with different types of interactions – A/B tests on an email newsletter, a poll on Instagram or LinkedIn.
You can match these responses to other interactions you’ve had with the same customer and build up your understanding of them as an individual.
5. Cut yourself some slack – validation is gruelling, full of ups and downs.
Customers can be painfully honest when giving feedback on your baby one day, and blinded by its brilliance the next. When it gets too much, take a couple of days out, then regroup (more objectively) over what you’ve learnt and your gaps and get back in the saddle.
Most businesses fail because of cash flow, because they don’t get revenues, because they don’t have customers, because their product isn’t wanted or understood.
Validation is painful and annoying, but you dramatically improve your chances of success if you make it part of your culture, until it becomes what you – and your team as you scale - do unconsciously.
Tools and workflows like Familiarize can certainly help make validation more systematic, but they rely on your commitment as a founder to put the customer in the centre of your business.
If you’re struggling, drop me a line. I’m happy to be an “accountability partner” to help you get through the messy middle between the euphoria of customer discovery and customer enrolment – you can reach me at email@example.com.