Lessons learned from hundreds of customer calls and half a dozen pivots.

The startup I am working on currently has pivoted more than most. When I say pivoted more than most, I’m not talking about the slight changes to the product kind of pivots. I’m talking about completely re-directing the company time after time and spending 500k on market research. (I will do a whole post on this at some point because it is a great story and we learned A LOT about finding market fit)

I was just writing a medium post about the automated solutions I have come across after interviewing hundreds of people about how they organize their files and I realized something. Because we have pivoted so many times, I have, for all intents and purposes, become a professional idea validator. Here are the three most important lessons I have learned about interviewing potential customers:

**See if they have already created a solution to the problem.** This is the single most important lesson I learned after doing so many interviews. If potential customers have a pain point that is strong enough for them to have already thought of their own DIY versions of your product, you are on the right path. This is exactly what we noticed while validating the latest iteration of our product and coincidentally this is also the only iteration that is showing signs of market fit. In our case, we are building a file manager for all of your cloud files and learned that many people are already trying to homebrew a solution mostly using Zapier but also sometimes Trello and Slack. Pay attention to these moments and study the solutions potential users have already created.

**Write down goals, not scripts.** Scripts can make you sound robotic, impersonal, and they can prevent you from listening actively, but more importantly, they aren’t dynamic. If you are in the validation stage, you aren’t yet confident that you are solving a legitimate problem that many people face, and you certainly aren’t confident that you are solving it in the most efficient way. If you don’t already know exactly the pain you are solving, exactly how you solve it, and common issues and objections users have there, is no way you can write a script in the first place. Instead, just write down a list of questions that you need to know the answer to at the end of each call. You don’t ever need to ask these questions explicitly, the answers can be implied, but you need to walk away knowing the answer to each one.

**Find the right people to interview.** This may sound like generic advice, but it can be harder than you might imagine to get right. For some innovative solutions, you might not know exactly who needs your product the most without doing a significant amount of testing. In our case, we came to a point where we realized that people definitely have a hard time organizing cloud files, but we didn’t know who had the hardest time. In the end, we have had the most success with marketers and marketing agencies who have absurd amounts of copy, creative materials, and analytics stored on the cloud. We never would have known this if we hadn’t systematically gone through a whole list of other professions.

Hopefully, these lessons are helpful for some of you.

Edit: For those wondering, here is the post I was talking about where I outline the ways people had made DIY versions of our product: [https://medium.com/@bchapp/take-back-control-of-your-cloud-4-ways-to-automate-your-cloud-file-management-43a5ab12484f](https://medium.com/@bchapp/take-back-control-of-your-cloud-4-ways-to-automate-your-cloud-file-management-43a5ab12484f)

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  1. Thanks for the awesome post! I was in a similar boat with $$ being spent to validate the product. Do you think finding the right people to interview would have been different if you weren’t targeting the B2B market?

  2. Great post, I definitely agree with the part about looking for DIY versions of your product, but I really do enjoy using scripts for all of my calls. It helps me stay relaxed on the phone and ensures I hit all of the points I need to bring up

  3. Yes, all early stage businesses (who don’t have personal experience in the problem being solved) should have someone in their team who has a **UX or design background**. Not to be confused with “UI designer” (background being graphic design). But an actual expert in using design (business) in solving problems. The key is someone with lots of experience in designing research AND who is extremely empathetic. Someone whose ego is not invested in the “success of the company” but on the veracity of solving real customer needs.

    Some of the methods you’ve discovered align with **”Jobs To Be Done” theory**, I highly recommend the book, “When Coffee And Kale Compete” and reading “Smashing Magazine” and “Neilson Norman” (research) on the regular.

  4. Great advice, customer discovery/value proposition identification is something that i am struggling with doing well but I am trying to get better at it.

    Question – when you identify who to interview, how do you actually approach them to conduct it? Do you just cold call companies and ask for a person in a specific position, or is there some other means of connecting with the right people? LinkedIn?


  5. I’m a bot, *bleep*, *bloop*. Someone has linked to this thread from another place on reddit:

    – [/r/concentrationofwealth] [Lessons learned from hundreds of customer calls and half a dozen pivots.](https://www.reddit.com/r/ConcentrationOfWealth/comments/beg6yt/lessons_learned_from_hundreds_of_customer_calls/)

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  6. YES. I want to stress the point that you need to find the right people to interview.

    I heard somewhere that sales is like dating. It’s a two way relationship, so you need to find clients that can benefit you and that you can benefit.

    Edit: Want to credit [this video](https://youtu.be/LX76Wa1IzNI?t=162) for teaching me this. Cool YouTube series that interviews young founders, VCs, etc.

  7. OK so I consider myself a relatively successful entrepreneur. And I am seriously re-evaluating many years of my life following startup “change the world, raise millions in VC capital” advice, because, the ONLY THING THAT EVER WORKED for me was to provide goods/services that were already proven to be in demand.

    So when I read stuff like this, I wonder if so many of you are spending thousands of human-hours trying to innovate some bullshit product instead of trying to provide regular old bread and innovate the baking/distribution/marketing process instead of provide a *whole* new type of bread, which is infinitely harder.

  8. >completely re-directing the company time after time

    I found the need to come up with a new term for this: [trébuchet](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trebuchet). There comes a point past which you are abusing the term *pivot*.

    Those most in need of understanding this term have a nasty habit of branding what they do as a solution with no particular need to understand the problem their solution goes with. I think I shall eventually create a term for the abject neglect of the knowledge domain ‘solution providers’ display.

  9. What do you think – does this brand have solid potential to stand out, or will it cap off and be mediocre at best?

    Brand name: ‘Hut Mentality’ Website: http://Www.hutmentality.com Instagram page: @hutmentality

    It’s an ethical clothing brand started by a college student that procures artisan made fabrics from rural parts of India and then designs them into women’s clothing. Seems to have very limited stock currently, with most of the products on the website saying sold out. The story is fascinating but not sure if there’s a market who could turn this brand cult..what do you guys think? They’re instagram page has astounding engagement, with some posts getting as much as 1,000 likes while only having 3,000 followers. The many comments and the sold out element make this brands small success so far sound pretty legit. Do you guys think with the right strategy and investment it could take off and become a Zara or Reformation?

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