“Your mama is not your market.” Why you need more validation for your startup.



Love at first sight is rare. In startups, just like in real life, relationships are built in time, and there are lots of compromises to be made. Founders and customers interact along the way, and this interaction can lead (or not) to a real love story. When you build your startup, you have market risk.

You don’t know if your solution will actually satisfy or delight your customers. You can diminish this market risk by validating your assumptions before investing too much time and money into building your product.

Yet, it is amazing how few entrepreneurs do their research properly before starting to build something. Since the very recent spread of Lean Startup methodology of Eric Ries, of Customer Development concept of Steve Blank, or of the refined ‘Running Lean’ concept of Ash Maurya, founders seem to understand the importance of validation at each step.

Validating is not something new actually. It is just more emphasized lately. Even Oliver Samwer stated the importance of this, in his research paper based on interviews with successful American entrepreneurs that was published in 1998 (that was 14 years ago!).

“Explore the customer need through conversations with the customer and refine the problem to a point that it is a mission-critical problem. Then assemble what it needs to build a solution.”

Oliver Samwer, 1998

And despite the abundance of “get out of the building” advice (expression coined by Steve Blank in Four Steps to Epiphany), founders seem to still not get it right in practice.

Luiz Piovesana: “You’re afraid – we all are

@luizpiovesana, Co-Founder and CEO at Empreendemia
“Startups don’t really apply the lean methodology, but they pray to Lean Startup god. You don’t learn just by reading, you need to test and to work on results. A lot of people just stop after first experiments. People are afraid to fail.”

“The difference is that, despite the fear, you can go step by step and know that every milestone you reach is stable and you can learn from that. For this to happen, you fail, you learn, next time you do it right because of the experience. You are afraid, we all are. Failure and learning out of it can drive you to success.”

Tristan Kromer: “Be passionate but skeptical”

@TriKro

Lean advocate, Advisor, Coach at LUXr, Writer at GrassHopperHerder:

“It’s not easy to be passionate enough about your idea to convince investors and teammates to join you, and simultaneously be skeptical enough to test your idea. Another obstacle is a lack of practice. You can’t just read a book and do lean startup. It’s like reading a book about how to play basketball. Entrepreneurship is a skill, it takes practice.”

Alex Barrera: “Your mama is not your market”

@abarrera

Founder & Chief WOWness at Press42

“Very few founders have actually talked to customers. 98% of startups haven’t done this. Most think they talked to customers. But then you see their pitch and it is complicated, has technical words in their definition, they don’t have a clear view of what they are building.”

“They say they talked with their friends and they said it is great, because they have that problem and we have that problem too! You need to realize that your mama is not your market.”

“Most people think that they know others have a problem. I always push them to actually go out. Why are they so reluctant to actually talk to real potential customers? There is a combination of issues for this reason. Developers are meritocratic, they look for people they can learn from, people with technical backgrounds.”

Click to go to Amazon book page.

“When you have a team with developers it is hard for them to talk to the average Joe. They don’t feel comfortable. And talking to customer is painful because they don’t understand you. Average Joe doesn’t understand you. They will do it once, twice, if you push them, but they will stop. Doing this properly requires training, some social skills. It is like a muscle, you need to train it. And don’t have big ego in front of a customer. Listen, learn. It requires you to be humble.”

Not talking to customers to validate assumptions can be lethal for your startup. And so can be asking the wrong questions or interpreting the answers in a wrong way. Therefore, you might need some help.

The professionals in this field are Qualitative Researchers and User Experience specialists. They can offer consultancy or work with you hands-on during a pilot research.

Martin Christensen: “Learn interviewing skills”

@m8rt

Agile User Experience Designer at Kaeru.se

“The gap is that founders think of UX as design only, not research. UX specialists are used to go out of the building. They are good at interviewing and understanding the target group quicker, because they have the experience. It is more the feeling they get, not recordings of data. It comes with experience. I brought the founder with me when doing research. He took notes, listened, and presented something. It was a good collaboration.”

[Photo: Felipe Gabaldon, Flickr]

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About the author

Adelina Peltea

Adelina is Co-Founder of social recruiting platform splinter.me and author of Customer Seduction, a book for tech startups at pre-seed and seed stage. You can follow Adelina on Twitter.

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