By Jackie Luo, TCV Growth Partner -
In her latest book “the Greatest Secret”, best-selling author Rhonda Bryne reminds us that “all beliefs are limiting.” Rhonda Bryne has a great worldwide following. She is best known for her block-buster movie “Secret”, in which she interviewed many personal growth experts on how to create a life we desire. To live our dream life, we must be willing to challenge our beliefs and assumptions. We can experience personal growth only after we get rid of limiting beliefs in our minds. When we step beyond our limiting beliefs, we will discover abundance, and joy, and bigger opportunities.
In other words, we should always be willing to challenge our beliefs and assumptions. That’s how we continue to expand our minds and live to our full potential.
That’s not only true for personal life, but also for building a business. Building a business starts with an idea. The initial idea is inevitably influenced by the founder’s personal beliefs and assumptions. They may result from many years of experiences and observations of the founder, nevertheless they are limiting, as all beliefs are. It’s critical that the owner of the business idea recognize the limitations and take steps to validate the assumptions.
That’s the work of “customer discovery”. Customer discovery uses a structured process to prove or disapprove beliefs or assumptions underlying the initial ideation. As a result, it refines and clarifies the correct assumptions necessary for finding the value proposition and product market fit, which are the foundations of a scalable business.
In 2011, when the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program was established, it formally adopted the customer discovery process as a way to assess the market potential for a new scientific innovation. After that, most federal and state government funding sources for early-stage businesses required the applicants to share the results from their customer discovery process.
A big part of the customer discovery process is talking to the potential customer ecosystem, including buyers, users, and influencers. Seasoned experts and successful business builders know that the number of people you talk to during the process is positively correlated with the efficiency of scaling the startup. The well-known “Lean Startup” methodology is based on doing continuous and diligent customer discovery. As a matter of fact, the customer discovery methodology was first evangelized by Steven Blank, the father of “Lean Startup” and a Stanford University professor of entrepreneurship. By talking to customers, entrepreneurs avoid wasting time building products or features of little value to their end customers. By focusing on the key pain points of target customers, startups only spend money on most the relevant features for an MVP (minimal viable products), therefore they can quickly launch products and continue to improve based on market feedback.
A critical skill for successful customer discovery is the willingness to challenge your own assumptions. A good criterion for whether you are doing customer discovery work correctly is the number of assumptions proven to be wrong. When assumptions are proven wrong, it may be frustrating to some people, but business builders should celebrate that. These wrong assumptions often provide critical insights for entrepreneurs to change their beliefs, pivot their ideas so they can ultimately find the right product market fit. Often, that product market fit is very different from what the entrepreneur has started with. It takes persistence to find the right product market fit, but once it is found, it will quickly make money for the business.
Persistence pays. It doesn’t mean entrepreneurs need to be persistent with their assumptions. Rather, it means entrepreneurs should always be willing to challenge their assumptions until they find the right product market fit. It may take talking to hundreds of potential customers to get there. But that is what a persistent entrepreneur should be prepared to do.
Are you willing to challenge your assumptions.