Customer Validation – Three Cautionary Tales


Customer Validation.
Beaker Buddy Leona Keane by Josh BaileyHi everyone! It’s me, Leona Keane. As a Beaker Buddy, I have watched many a team fail, flail, and fall when it comes to customer validation – and I don’t want to see another team make these same mistakes. So I’m here with a two-part post on customer validation.

But first, a PSA brought to you by Portland Startup Weekend hosts, Puppet Labs: Early-bird tickets are on sale now. If you haven’t already purchased your ticket, take a break from reading this and get your ticket. Right now. (Why? Because Portland Startup Weekend sells out earlier every year and you save money with early-bird pricing.)

Now, back to customer validation.

FAIL. Let’s start with Team WonderDreamers. They had a 3 to 1 ratio of Hustlers (business types) to Hackers (developers) on the team. Each Hustler managed a specific social media account, and as a group they created a survey, which they posted and tweeted to their personal social media accounts. Then they sat back and waited for the data. By Sunday night, each of their moms thought they had a million dollar idea and the WonderDreamers Facebook page had 6 ‘Likes.’ (So what if it was just the team and two of their girlfriends?)

Why was this a fail? The WonderDreamers forgot to hustle. They asked only their friends and family within their own social networks. That might work if your target demographic is your mom. Otherwise it doesn’t pass the mustard when the judges ask, “Did only your family respond to the survey questions?”
WonderDreamers started out with very good intentions, but didn’t reach deep enough into the social media world to drive the information they needed. Starting a Twitter handle and Facebook account is great and a survey is stupendous. But toss out the family and friends responses. The team needs scientific data – they don’t need to know your mom loves you. (PS – Your mom does love you.)

FLAIL. Moving on, Team Politico hit the streets Saturday morning with a plethora of questions. They peppered street walkers, guys walking their dogs, grandmas and grandpas in identical tracksuits, and even got kicked out of the mega bookstore downtown. They chatted with their target demographic (local, everyday people) and by Saturday afternoon had enough responses to position Politico correctly within the market.
When they looked at their response, they realized their idea no longer fit the data. To be profitable, the idea would need to be modified based on the feedback. Instead of pivoting, Team Politico modified the survey and Sunday morning hit the streets again hoping for different responses. But, Sunday’s data also suggested the idea needed to be altered. Rather than a Sunday afternoon Hail Mary pivot, Team Politico pitched their original idea to the judges.
Why file under flail? Don’t waste your Hustlers time and don’t be afraid to modify your original idea. Pivots happen; the best leaders see the opportunities and make the best play.
FALL. Then there was Team Treazure. They roamed far and wide, from corner to corner of…the venue. They polled every organizer, mentor and fellow attendee. All their data supported their idea so they built their product.

FALL? Yes. While Startup Weekend seeks to be an inclusive event, attendees are cut from the same cloth. Unless your team is building the next Startup Weekend gadget or app, you need to leave the venue to get customer validation.
Stay tuned for part two and tips to successfully conduct customer validation. In the mean time, if you have a question about customer validation, ask me!

You can find me and all the other Beaker Buddies at @PDXSW on Twitter.