Enhancing the Validated Learning Loop. Let’s demonstrate how the “Build-Measure-Learn” feedback loop can be modified to incorporate prospective customer and/or end-user feedback. Both of the recommended additional steps come at the front-end of the validated learning cycle where the impact can be the greatest: prior to any investment in the “Build” phase of the process.
The qualitative category exploration is designed to inform and to clarify the entrepreneur’s vision of the market and of the proposed new product or service – specifically, how the startup might best fit within the framework of existing options. This, in turn, leads to the concept test phase where those ideas are translated into specific product descriptions complete with references to unique features and a clear, compelling customer benefit.
By injecting customer research into the front-end of the process, the objective is to dramatically reduce uncertainty in terms of feature set, user benefit and product positioning, which form the conceptual framework for the MVP. This, in turn, should both focus and accelerate the “Build-Measure-Learn” feedback loop by eliminating non-starters before the “Build” process is initiated.
Talk to customers first, not last! At one point in Reis’ continuing saga of “things gone wrong” he makes the following, rather startling, admission:
“When I could think of nothing else to do, I was finally ready to turn to the last resort: talking to customers. Armed with our failure to make progress tuning our engine of growth, I was ready to ask the right questions.” (Ries, 2011, p. 124)
Why wait until you’re at the point of failure before talking with your customers? For anyone coming from marketing background, that just sounds like either arrogance or lack of experience. There are three clear and compelling benefits to talking with prospective customers at the earliest stages in the startup development process.
- To understand the category from the customer’s perspective – thereby quickly dispensing with invalid assumptions that lead down blind alleys at the outset of a project.
- To quickly isolate the crucial features and essential functionality that prospective uses demand, and to dispense with those they see as secondary or completely unnecessary – thereby creating a blueprint for the MVP and the initial build stage.
- To identify the most compelling customer benefit and supporting product features (“reasons to believe”) that will constitute the positioning platform for the product’s roll-out. These are crucial elements for developing a marketing campaign that can effectively generate informed customer awareness and product demand.