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A friend of mine is starting his own business. His small team is in the prototyping phase, where they are building their innovative product and then gaining feedback from customers. Their first prototype involved a number of features and took them four months to complete. At first take, this seems diligent – but four months is actually a long time to spend developing something without a skerrick of customer interaction and feedback. As I have seen so often before, the team has been spending too much time learning how to engineer and design the product (“can we build it?”) and not enough time learning what customers will actually value (“should we build it?”).

For startups through to large organisations, the mistake typically lies in the fear of not showing something to customers until it is ‘right’. Until it has been properly designed and built. However, there is an inherent assumption here that we know what ‘right’ is. That we know what customers value and what they will buy and therefore what we ‘should’ build.

dead end

The good news is you can boost your chances of successfully building an innovation that customers will value by developing ‘Minimum Viable Products’ (MVPs). MVPs are designed to test your fundamental business hypotheses about what, why and how customers will buy – ‘should’ you build something.

There are many different techniques to building MVPs. It’s all about getting in front of customers as soon as possible to learn about how they respond and behave, and doing so repeatedly. An important way of uncovering whether customers will value an innovation, for example, is to test whether they will actually buy it. A popular means of doing so is the ‘imperfect landing’, based on Eric Ries’s ‘Smoke Test’:

1. Build a 1-2 page website outlining your product/service offering

2. Include a “buy it now” button (but don’t actually build anything to sell yet)

3. Drive people to your website e.g. google AdWords

4. Monitor the numbers of people that click “buy it now”

5. Let people know that the offering is not yet ready, offer them a thank you reward (e.g. voucher)

I would love to hear your experiences and challenges with developing your innovations or learning from customers. Please get in touch on Twitter @projectbarclay, or send me an email at: [email protected]