Customer research or product validation?

A few years ago I worked on an app idea for delivery drivers. We spent a few weeks building a prototype mobile app, and we were finally ready to test with users.

It all unravelled. To our surprise, the very first driver said: “This wouldn’t work, I can’t use my phone as I always have my hands full with parcels.”

The same response repeated over and over throughout the day. It was a painful lesson. If we’d spent a few hours with the drivers earlier learning about how they worked, it would have saved us weeks of work. In this case, we assumed we knew more about our customer than we actually did.

It is a careful balance. Is it best to spend time with customers to gain a deep understanding of their world? Or is it better to use the time putting together and shaking out concepts and prototypes?

Your approach depends on two things:

  • The maturity of your market/customer understanding

  • The maturity of your product

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Low Product Maturity
If you are starting a new product for an immature market, then you should invest in exploratory customer discovery. On the other hand, working with a mature market means you can make a few educated bets and start prototyping and concept testing to speed up your learning.

High Product Maturity
For an existing product that is looking to move into a new market, then customer discovery is as important as it was when you first started the product. You should first confirm that the new market has similar needs to your existing customers. Presenting your solution before this may lead to biased research.

The lowest risk change is introducing new features in an existing market. Here, you can make decisions using customer interaction patterns and data. By running small experiments on live traffic, you can confirm your assumptions and make educated decisions.

There’s a saying in the startup world: “No business plan will survive its first contact with customers”. Building your product in a vacuum is a sure-fire way to guarantee failure.

Whichever approach you decide on, the underlying goal to improve your customer understanding will be critical to your product’s success!



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