#1 Startup Mistake

While working at the University of Iowa’s I-Corps program, I heard hundreds of startup pitches every year. It didn’t take long before I could tell whether a startup would succeed, or not.  I found that teams who were fearless during the customer discovery process quickly pulled away from the pack.

We’ve all seen an entrepreneur who has fallen head over heels for his idea. Like a new parent madly in love with their creation, the founder is deaf to negative feedback.  The founder makes the mortal mistake of only asking questions that validate his idea, never truly discovering product/market fit.

Success Through Customer Discovery

On the other hand, I’ve seen successful teams taking a very scientific approach to the customer discovery process.  They ask tough questions — Venture Killing Questions!  During customer discovery, it’s important to find holes in a startup idea and to do so, founders must ask the questions that are the most likely to “kill” the idea. It’s worth the time to sit down with a mentor and identify key areas that will make or break the startup.

Once those areas have been established the next step is developing interview questions and doing the humbling work of really listening to customers. This is not for the faint of heart, the egotistical or the “know-it-alls”.  This first step will determine success or failure. 

Streamline the Discovery Process with Handrail

Using Handrail is an excellent way to facilitate the customer discovery process. The entire founding team can be on the same page, asking the same questions and reviewing the same data. From the questions library to the results and analyze features, Handrail helps founders glean greater insight into customer needs. Even mentors can be involved with this process by following along in the “read-only” view, allowing for a hearty dose of reality if discovery gets off course.

I loved seeing startup teams come back after a week of customer discovery with fresh insights and new hypotheses to test. If done right, customer discovery leads to startup success…even if that means killing the idea.

Jennie Banta

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