What happens when your little company has the biggest opportunity of its start-up life? But to take advantage, you have to quickly learn about a new set of customers quickly? Anita Newton, Vice President of Adknowledge, spoke at the LeanStartup Conference, an annual event that brings speakers from around the world to teach others about the core principals of the Lean Startup. Newton talked about how her startup Mighty Handle was able to use the internet in innovative ways to quickly learn about her customers.

Mighty Handle is a gadget that allows a consumer to carry up to 50lbs. of grocery bags in one hand--across a parking lot, subway or up a flight of stairs, easily and comfortably. The startup had the opportunity to test their product with a national retailer in 100 stores. If the test was successful Mighty Handle would roll out nationally.

There was only one hitch. Most of their current customers lived in apartments; the national retailer's core customers lived in the suburbs. Two very different customers. Newton talked about three innovative ways to use the internet to learn about their new customers:

Amazon.com

Whenever a consumer buys a product on amazon, the seller of the product has an opportunity to email that person and thank them for the purchase and ask them follow up questions. Mighty Handle has made it a habit to do this since the product starting selling on Amazon in 2013. The Mighty Handle team reached out to suburban moms who had previously bought the product on line and asked them what were the reasons they bought the product? Their answers formed a grounded hypothesis for the startup to conduct experiments.

Key questions asked:

Facebook

Newton says they were looking for ways to improve their packaging and they tested six different photos on Facebook to see what resonated. Newton says online testing like Facebook is valuable to learn about customers because it's

1) Fast and cheap--you can gather a lot of data in a few hours with just a few hundred dollars.

2) Eliminates the observation effect.

The biggest problem with asking someone what they think of your service, app, or product is that your respondent is going to tell you what they think they feel versus what they actually feel, because consumers know they are being watched. What people say and what they do are totally different things.

Think about the last time you were at a shoe store and the salesperson asked you to walk. Notice how you change your stride. The antidote for the observation effect: watch, don't ask.

Spinning up Facebook images, copy or headlines is a great, objective way to learn about what actually resonates with your customers.

Youtube

YouTube alone reaches more U.S. adults than any cable network. For many, YouTube is their television. Last year, brands nearly doubled the amount of money spent on online video. Newton says that she spent time trying to target customers based on gender and demographics on YouTube with limited success.

Paul Calento, Co-Founder of YouTube Adveritising firm TriVu Media, told her she should do one thing different: Don't target based on who customers are, instead, focus on what customers LOVE.

With the help of Trivu Media, Mighty Handle was able to run many experiments and learn what their new customers loved. In this case when Mighty Handle videos were put in front of Enrique Iglacious--it had the greatest views through conversions.

The Takeway?

Startups should aim to use new tools (specifically from the web) to learn about their customers, but they should also continue to apply core lean principals such as asking customers good questions, setting up hypothesis,' rigorous testing and experimentation. Eric Reis Founder of Lean Startup sums it up best the "goal is to learn things that are really valuable so (companies) can see their impact scale across the world."

Published on: Dec 17, 2014