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Can Customer Discovery be a Dead End?

November 17, 2011

It seems to us that startups face four categories or risk: customer/product match business model, protagonist/team, money, and implementation/technology. These things interact. So for example, getting traction on the customer/product match can enable you to bring in money that can enable you to bring on team members who will solve an implementation problem. But all such paths have pitfalls and potential dead ends. For example, you can get a customer/product match around a product that’s too expensive at scale to fit in your business model, so you fail in the money category. Or you can have too much equity invested in a team that can’t implement a technology that the customer/product match says you need, so you fail in the team category.

It’s true that you will fail without a product/market match, but it’s not true that with that match, all things are possible. So orienting the business development process entirely around that category of risk seems wrong.

On the other hand, the lean startup approach to testing, iterating, validated learning, etc., can also be applied to these other risk categories.  The point isn’t to gainsay the customer discovery approach, but to extend it.

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