“The Key to Startup Success? ‘Get Out of the Building’” — Steve Blank
I know! This is the umpteenth time someone is spreading the gospel of customer discovery & validation. I wish there was no need to write about this anymore. Sadly, many designers still push pixels with vibes & insha allah*.
When did you last engage prospects/customers about your product? Oh! You have never done this?
Hol’up dribbbler**, don’t feel sad. I was once guilty of all these crimes. I have served time and I am a changed UXer. Peep my mugshot at the end of this article.
Let’s get down to business…
What is ‘Get out of the building’?
Old sport, read the long answer.
Long answer: Spare me 4 minutes, we’d be done in no time ⌛
Just like the plot of the award-winning thriller, the earlier you get out and engage customers, the lesser your chances of getting lost in the sunken place.
The business of creating products has never been easier since the invention of the internet as it keeps annihilating all barriers of entry. Yet most startups still fail. Heck! Only a few make it to product/market fit.
At the early stage of a startup, before product/market fit, the big thought that keeps founders up at night is “Have I built something people want?”. The risk of investing lots of resources into a solution that no one wants lurks around the corner whispering “tick-tock”. Few months down the line, it is time to close shop.
Unfortunately, relying on lottery-like tactics to design products, jumping straight to production with “pixel-perfect” interfaces without learning about customers and their needs have become common traits of some product teams.
Comparatively, other product teams make strides to involve customers early on at the discovery stage and then after a period of building their solutions, validate their prototypes/products with customers. The fault in this is the huge gap between the discovery stage and launch stage where teams don’t engage customers and possibly build something completely disparate from what the market needs, hence leading to huge UX debt.
According to Steve Blank in his acclaimed book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, the ideal approach is to embrace a culture of cultivating a frequent customer feedback loop throughout the product development cycle with the mindset that a bulk of the answers are out there — not in our designer minds, sticky notes or computers and will only remain latent until we engage customers.
What GOOTB isn’t
Because of one key similarity in the nature of engaging customers for feedback and pitching or selling products; talking to customers, it’s understandable if your first thought is that customer discovery is unequivocally the same as sales or marketing. It truly isn’t.
In sales, all efforts by a sale person are inclined towards selling an idea or product to a market. In marketing, a marketer is focused at getting people interested in a product or service. The process of getting out of the building for customer discovery is neither of these two.
Customer discovery which entails observing & interviewing customers seeks to discover their behaviors, motivations, and needs, expose problems and design opportunities, and find crucial information to drive design decisions.
Getting out when locked inside
Getting out to engage customers is not limited to in-person interactions. Conducting customer discovery in close proximity during the COVID-19 pandemic can be challenging and should be avoided when possible. Although it’s recommended to get face-to-face to observe user behavior, there are other GOOTB methods that align with social distancing rules.
In 2018, my team at Access Bank Plc was to conduct interviews with some banking agents to improve the product experience of an agency banking application we were developing. Because of the nature of agency banking, the agents were located in distant rural areas, traveling to meet each agent would have taken more time than we had available, also the option of live video calls wasn’t going to create an ideal interview experience due to possible internet issues on both ends & cost implications for the agents.
The solution? We conducted the interviews via phone calls. Prior to the interview, we informed participants so they could find quiet and comfortable spaces to talk with us. Although we missed out on observing visual cues & body language that physical interviews reveal, the phone calls were good enough to inform subsequent design decisions.
Other methods of remote GOOTB
- Digital Whiteboards for co-design sessions
- Surveys for qualitative & quantitative data
- Online Usability Tests
GOOTB (Get out of the building) encourages an outside-in approach, a continuous customer feedback loop throughout the product development cycle. It religiously tilts away from the culture of building products with assumptions or pure logic.
Like a member of one of my book clubs said: “Assumptions is the mother of all fuckups” (You can print that on Tee).
*vibes & insha allah: a common Nigerian slang meaning “sheer luck” in this context.
**dribbbler: Designers that design interfaces without some form of validation. Huge fan of the design portfolio platform though.
Mugshot: You really came here to look for it?