A tale of two meetings


Ok, confession time. For someone who spends an awful lot of time proselytising that other people should get out and get talking to potential customers as much as possible, we’ve not always walked the walk ourselves. So please view this as a sort of morality tale, and learn from our mistakes, so that you don’t have to repeat them.

About 18 months ago, we’d been working on our blood pressure management system for about 3 years. In that time, we’d not spoken to a single customer and barely mentioned it to a few of our work colleagues. We had bought some traffic through AdWords, and poured over data that was too small to show any useful information. It didn’t matter because we were building our masterpiece, and when we unleashed it on the world, people would come flocking. Because it did everything that anyone could possibly want it to do.

Somehow, word got out about what we were working on, and we were invited to meet with a potential customer to show them what we were working on.

In the car on the way to the meeting we discussed what our strategy would be. We had no idea whether we were pitching, idea extracting or what. We decided that we’d show them the prototype that we’d built and ask them what they thought…

As you can probably guess the meeting did not go well. The really scary thing is that at the time, we did not realise this . As Rob Fitzpatrick says in his excellent book, if you come out of a meeting and look at each other and say “well that went well” then it didn’t. It lasted for hours as we tried to get the people to understand what we were working on. At the end, we came out with a vague commitment to meet again. Needless to say at the next meeting, the key player neglected to turn up…

Now contrast that to our meeting yesterday. Before the meeting, we looked at our lean canvas to work out what hypotheses we wanted to test and in which order. We extracted demographic data about the organisation we were visiting so that we didn’t have to waste time in the interview. We had a script and had rehearsed follow-up questions depending on the answers given.

In 30 minutes we found out that-

  • Our Unique Value Proposition will be off-putting to at least some customers as it is currently phrased.
  • That some of the features of our proposed MVP may not currently be attractive, and may even be off-putting to many.
  • Our assumptions about the demographics of our customer segment are probably wrong.
  • The organisation didn’t have one of the problems that we assumed were universal (despite our domain expertise).
  • There were 4 separate implementation problems that would need to be overcome if we were to scale in future.
  • This organisation lacked basic cost-benefit information on which to make its decisions.

We also got a commitment to continue a dialogue if we wanted to in future, and two further contacts to follow up.

At an early stage in a start-up, this is the information that we need. It’s only by knowing where we may be going wrong that we can start to work out how to get it right. So despite it seeming like a superficially negative interview, it gave us loads of useful data.

This is the essence of customer development. Test your hypotheses cheaply, before you build expensive infrastructure.

How do you prepare for your interviews?

As ever, please share this as widely as possible.

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