Recruiting customers for customer discovery interviews may be one of the most difficult and time consuming things to do when starting with a business idea validation process to achieve product-market fit.
One of the mantras of Steve Blank, the serial entrepreneur and academician who started the entire Lean Startup movement by developing the Customer Development methodology, is to “get out of the building“. What Steve says is to get out of the office and speak with real people. We believe his claim is provocative on purpose, in opposition to the corporate habit of spending hours in crowded meeting rooms to review hundreds of boring slides while trying not to be noticed when glancing at our Twitter feed.
In fact there are a number of reasons why getting out on the street to stop people passing by is not really a good idea:
- Stopping people on the street is incredibly awkward. We tried a few times, it’s not nice.
- Selecting a specific area – like a neighbourhood – might help us find relevant people, but we’d be essentially picking at random. It will take ages until we have a big enough sample size to validate our assumptions.
- It’s very unlikely that we will find anyone willing to spend more than a couple of minutes talking with us. People on the streets are always in a rush, and we need engaged customers to get meaningful information.
So instead of running around like headless chickens, a little bit of homework might help to get the customer insights we need.
First thing first: define which are the problems the new business idea or new product is going to solve, and who are the target customers that you expect to be affected the most by those problems. These will be your early adopters (read more about how to recognise them).
Depending on your knowledge of the industry, it might require a bit of a guesswork. In any case, creativity plus some online research will come in handy. We personally find that compiling a Lean Canvas helps structuring our thoughts, so we really recommend using one. We’ve written a step by step guide to compile a Lean Canvas. It takes just a few minutes to do it.
Once the assumptions about target customers are defined, recruiting customers to interview is easier if you ask yourself: where do these people congregate? What do they have in common? This is what we call a Network Hub. A Network Hub is a location, either online or physical, where target customers get together.
You might need some research to understand more about what these customers do and where they meet. It might take some time, but it’s not going to be wasted. In fact, it will be a very useful first step to get closer to the target segment and to start an entrepreneurial journey.
For example, one of the startups we worked with asked us to define the product strategy for a WordPress plugin. After a little bit of thinking, we reasoned that WordPress developers with a certain seniority and background could have been our potential profile of early adopters. So where do WordPress developers with a certain seniority and background congregate? What do they have in common? We identified locations (either online or proper places) where they might meet or get together: online forums, communities, meet ups, LinkedIn groups, etc, and we contacted them right there.
If network hubs are online, we recruit customers either with posts on online communities or contact them directly. If network hubs are physical places, we meet these people at networking events. In either case, the objective is to ask them to have an in depth chat whenever and anywhere they like.