Customer Validation – Truth and Consequences For Startups



When startups fail to obtain evidence to support their assumption that customers will buy and use their product, their chances of failure sky-rocket.

A lack of customer insight means you’re more likely to launch something that does not have the necessary product / market fit. It also means an investor will refuse to fund you, either because you don’t have the smarts to recognize the importance of customer research, or because the risk is too high to invest, without some supportive data.

Ironically, most, if not all entrepreneurs know and agree with the advice that they get out of the building and go and talk to customers. Yet many delude themselves by maintaining that it isn’t actually necessary for their product because:

(a) They understand and know their target market. Firstly, if this is the case, then what’s the problem in proving you are correct?  Secondly, in the words of Evan Williams, Co-Founder of Twitter

Be a user of your own product. Hire people who are users of your product. Make it better based on your own desires. But don’t trick yourself into thinking you are your user, when it comes to usability.”

(b) Their friends, family and colleagues think it’s a great product. Sure they do. We tend to support and agree with those we like and care about. Credible evidence is independent evidence. Get out there and talk to people who don’t know and like you.

(c) It’s hard enough to get the damn thing out there let alone spend time trying to persuade others. This is more important than building a marketing plan or launching a website. If you don’t do this one thing, all else may be wasted time and money.

Eric Ries of Lean Startups fame, argues that “validated learning” about customers is even more important than revenue for a startup, since revenue, in isolation, doesn’t build traction. Products that are tested and proven, with customers that are ready to buy, are essential ingredients for success.

(d) I Don’t Want to Have to Change My Product. Product iteration is healthy and normal. If you are going to succeed, you will almost certainly have to revise your product and business model more than once. Better to make the changes earlier on rather than when it’s too late.

Fear, Tunnel Vision and Customer Validation

There are a number of other reasons why entrepreneurs resist doing the obvious. Fear of rejection is a big one. Our minds often ‘protect us’ by causing us to avoid those situations where we run the risk of rejection.

Equally, an entrepreneur needs ‘thick skin’ in order not to be deterred from taking risks by the many naysayers who line up to say you should be opting for the security of a 9-5 office job. This useful ‘thick skin’ can be unhelpful when it encourages the avoidance of customer validation.

Customer validation is a positive and necessary step on the road to startup success. A step that is critical to a successful product launch or investor pitch. So quit agreeing with this post and go out and talk to your customers.

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: Martin Soorjoo

Founder of The Pitch Clinic, Martin Soorjoo is a pitch strategist. He coaches entrepreneurs world-wide, helping them launch and raise funding. Prior to founding The Pitch Clinic, Martin spent 15 years as a former award winning attorney. He has worked with start-ups and investors, including senior investment bankers, venture capitalists and angel investors. During this period Martin raised several million dollars, including negotiating one deal worth $75 Million. This experience has equipped him with unique insights into the challenges start-ups face and how investors make decisions. He is a Certified Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and an expert in body language.

Martin is the author of ‘Here’s the Pitch‘.

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