A million years ago, ( early 90’s) when I was still a student at the Amsterdam University in Information Science, I bumped into a family of American tourist who asked me the way to the ‘Rijksmuseum’. I decided then and there that I would love to show ‘my’ Amsterdam and one of my favorite museums ( before the 10 year renovation) to people from a whole different continent. I offered to walk with them and show them around. It became a truly wonderful afternoon. Not only was it a joy to show off my Amsterdam, have them experience it enhanced with my stories. It also gave me insight in their world view. How they perceived ‘us’ and characterized ‘us’ as a nation through the images that they accumulated in their lives. They had constructed a conceptual model of the city and their inhabitants based on the few things they had experienced in media before. It was something I didn’t realize at the time, but it did throw us in lengthy conversations on common uses and experiences from both sides. And we enjoyed that very much. In return for my time, they offered to drive me home, just outside of the city at that time. I declined at first but they insisted, ‘”they would love to see the suburbs and the way people lived there” they said. They dropped me of, we said our goodbyes and we never did see each other again. (There was no Facebook to keep in contact.)
But the experience is one that is still lodged as a very positive one in my mind. I sometimes wander through the city, trying to look at it through other peoples eyes. Trying to see what they see. Experience the beautiful or the unique in the commonplace. I love this wandering, contemplating on little things of beauty, points of irritation or weird things I didn’t realize where beautiful, irritating or weird before. It makes me see things I otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
It is good to apply that to your product as well sometimes, what is commonplace for you might be something beautiful, novel, or highly irritating to the people that use it, or look at it for the first time. Try to look through their eyes, their conceptual models, their experiences and see what they see.
We interview customers, and then what? Now look at the data! Treat the answers of all the interviews as one batch. Review the answers, make it visual! Did you learn anything? Did you ask the right questions? Let patterns emerge and group similar findings together. Remember, explorative interviews will give you insights rather than clear answers. You decide what to do with those insights!
We all see through our own beliefs and experiences..
Now we all sort of know this is true for people in other cultures or belief circles. What we forget is that this is true for everyone, especially those we expect to be in the same circle of beliefs or experiences, you assume that they see the world like you do. We assume that their actions can be explained by your world view. Never assume anything, always clarify or validate.
I have been a mentor at Rockstart since the beginning. This year I am running the Lean customer development session in the Rockstart web/mobile track. Apart from giving workshops on experiments and the principles of customer development, the introduction of an experiment canvas, I also introduced weekly sessions with the startups called lean-mentor checkins. These sessions are really simple and straight forward but work really well. That is why I wanted to share them with you.
I basically took the ‘braintrust’ principle; founders that check in with a small group and share problems and ideas with each other. Combined that with the fact that I wanted them to help each other, as well as me wanting to know about their customer development process. Doing this every week will hopefully keep them doing customer development and product optimization based on customer feedback. Rather than them being sucked into the daily business of bugs, problems, finances and sales.
This resulted in a weekly meetup where the startups send one of the founders ( preferably always the same one) to a meeting that is always one hour, and no longer than that hour, at the same time every single week. I have divided the group in two so that there are 5 founders in each group. Keeping the group small helps in both trust and attention. I think 4 might even work better. Less than 3 will probably reduce some of the value by the feedback and different views of the other founders.
To keep the sessions about customer development for now, each founder has 12 minutes sharp to answer the following two questions;
What have you learned last week?
What is it you want to learn/validate this week?
The startups use the experiment canvas that I introduced ( a modified and simplified version of the evolve canvas ) to keep track off their progress during the sessions. Preferably they all have 4 minutes to tell about last week. This is something that really helps keeping at customer development. You want something to show to the others every week…It also can help having other peoples views giving feedback on the data you have collected. Next is what you want to learn this week, what do you want to validate and why, or what part of your product do you want to optimize and what data do you need for that. Sharing this can get you a lot of new ideas or expertise from the others on your next step. You will want as much time getting the views and experiences of te other founders. We keep the turns at 12 minutes each, strictly, keep notes on the feedback so you can follow up with conversations with the other founders that where cut short. Keeping it short will keep it meaningful for everyone, it only takes 1 hour of your always valuable time as a founder and you want as much dedication from everyone as possible to make it a valuable meeting to keep up with every week.
For now both groups are accompanied by a lean mentor, to give advice or ask critical questions, but in time the groups should run without the mentor. The meetup becoming a valuable hour of co-founder feedback for all of their problems, issues and successes.
As tech startups start to disrupt markets where enterprises ruled for decades, the need for innovation becomes bigger. Some turn to me and ask; “-Can you help us do lean customer development.” “-Can you help us think more visually.” “-Can you help us be more like a lean startup.” “-Can you help us be more innovative.” And although that first realization, by at least the one person that asks, that somethings need to change is a good start. It is no where enough for that company to stay on top. Continue reading “Big enterprises are you ready to innovate big?”
I am a mentor at Rockstart, have been for a while now. I love working with the enthusiastic startup teams. Apart from helping them with visual thinking and strategy, I am mainly a mentor in lean, giving sessions and workshops on Customer development. Here is a video compilation from one of these sessions.