The process of taking your idea and forming a product or company can be the scariest part of being an entrepreneur. For most of us, we have spent countless hours dreaming and scheming on how we are going to be on the cover of the next Inc. magazine. Slow your roll, first-time maven. Before you get your makeup on for the cover photo, you might want to talk to a few potential customers first.
Customer discovery is the process of interviewing 50 or more potential customers to understand their challenges so as to best inform you of what steps to take next. In between idea and cover photo are thousands of decisions, and what your customer has to say informs many of them.
Step one: "Get out of the office" says Steve Blank, author and professor at Stanford University. Go out and talk to 50 potential customers. Why 50? Because the first few are friends and family. They are safe and good for warming up your discovery interview. But after 5-10 of these, you have to talk to people who don't already know you. This is where the real feedback lies. This is where it gets real.
Many entrepreneurs stay in the safe zone of known interviewees. Why? Because they are afraid that someone is going to question their idea. Want to avoid nasty questions? Simply don't seek them out. If no one ever questions your idea, then it must still be amazing.
Be honest: haven't we all taken a shortcut or two to avoid the messy stuff?
Feedback is a tricky beast, and we are prone to rationalize the information it offers. To do this startup right, you cannot be afraid of the answers to your business questions. If you can't handle bad answers to your questions (isn't this a form of rejection?), then get out of your startup.
You have to -- and in fact, want to -- get these answers as soon as possible.