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Customer Discovery - Find the Pain!

By Rob Meissner - TCV Growth Partner - If you worked in the entrepreneurial world for any length of time you have undoubtably heard of the term “Customer Discovery”. Customer Discovery is a methodical approach of using conversations with potential customers to validate or refute every aspect of your proposed business model. Done well, you can “discover” your product market fit, value proposition, target market etc. It can go a long way to raising funding whether from government grants or VC’s. Done poorly, you will not only waste a lot of time and effort but your start-up is much less likely to be successful.

I have been performed customer discovery for companies I was helping to launch as well as mentored companies participating in the National Science Foundation’s iCorps and similar programs. Often companies fail to do customer discovery well. The most common error I’ve seen made and that I have made is not truly discovering a pain point that we can address. While sometimes new solutions are adopted because of some gain it delivers, typically, though, people adopt a new solution because it addresses one of their significant pain points.

I worked with a company that was developing an educational APP to help non-native speakers learn proper English grammar. Customer Discovery interviews with instructors and program administrators pointed to this being a need. We built a prototype and tested it in classrooms. The instructors were happy. The APP improved student outcomes. The students were engaged and loved using the APP…. Everything seemed great but we struggled to achieve broad adoption. What did we miss?

We loved our technology and had heard what we wanted to hear – the proposed APP solved a problem that we knew existed. We failed, however, to really explore how imported it was to potential customers to solve the problem. It turns out that improving the teaching of grammar was just one of many issues for these instructors. It was not one of their most pressing concern, or even a close second. Given that adopting the APP required that the instructors to change how they were teaching, the benefits produced by improving a secondary issue for them, teaching grammar, was not enough to secure broad adoption.

We had discovered an issue, not a true pain point. We had let confirmation bias lead us astray.

That experience taught me to always to always ask potential customers “what keeps you up at night” or some equivalent. If the contemplated solution doesn’t address one of the potential customer top two issues, we are not addressing a true a pain point.

In future posts I’ll talk about other mistakes I’ve encountered working with customers doing Customer Discovery.


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