On Rockets and Customer Development

I was recently discussing customer development with an aspiring entrepreneur when he lamented that he would not be able to round up more than 6–8 people from his circles to comment on his idea. But anyhow, his idea is pretty unique, so he doesn’t see the need to spend much time on that anyway.

We would never hear a similar sentiment from a rocket scientist along the lines of “Oh, I don’t think I have the time and energy to learn about the laws of physics. I’m pretty sure I can build a rocket from scratch on the first try without having to do experiments. I’ll just build it, I’m sure I can go to the moon with it.”

While the physics version sounds asinine, the startup equivalent plays out every day, way too many times. Entrepreneurs build their rocket-equivalent without learning about the laws of the space they play in, sit at the helm, launch their rocket and are surprised to see it explode on the launchpad.

The main issue is that the laws of entrepreneurship are hidden and not at all obvious that they even exist. It’s not clear what and when should be tested vs built. Clearly you need to build something to be able to test it, but it’s not clear that initially a mock-screen would do, or how far you should go with building before stopping to test.

I’m hoping that the physics analogy could prove to be helpful, since we all had to take physics, and it may also be intuitive that every component of a rocket needs to be tested against the relevant laws of physics, and iterated on.

In other words, if entrepreneurs could recognize that there are hidden rules to discover before building for real, they would dramatically increase their chances of success. What is it that I don’t know? I’m reminded of Andy Grove’s line: Only the paranoid survive.

Happy building!

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