5 lessons we’ve already learned by doing Customer Discovery at a-change

Luis Borges
Mar 28 · 6 min read
Our setup while doing Customer Discovery.

We need to talk to customers.

Even the most successful Founders and CEOs, after years in their business, spend at least 20% of their time talking to customers according to Steve Blank. It’s also our main focus today at a-change as part of our Customer Development process. We want to do it on a regular basis and follow what Steve also said: “There are no facts inside the building, so get the heck out there!” That’s where we are today, outside.

However, we don’t just want to talk. We want to make the experience valuable for both parties, the startups we work with and the Agents of Change.

So what have we done inside and “outside of the building” since our official launched two weeks ago?

As a very, very, very early stage startup, we’ve already decided on important topics and strategies in our first week, things like: our business model and assumptions, our way of working, our communication tools, our approach to searching for our business model and, most recently, setting goals. Or, as my business partner said a week ago:

“I think we should sit down and talk about OKRs…”

I can’t describe my face at that moment. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how at that point it made sense. I’d never experienced or seen in such an early stage how a conversation around OKRs would unfold. And yet, I’m eager to see that card on our Asana popping up tomorrow.

While waiting for that card to change in our Kanban board, I would like to share how we’re approaching our first step in our Customer Development process, namely, Customer Discovery.

Our first contact with customers.

In the past weeks, I was having a conversation with a startup Co-Founder about their current difficulties, challenges and big decisions to take from now on about their product and company:

1. I’m feeling that our company is on a good path for growth but we can no longer afford focusing on OMTM (the only metric that matters).

2. I believe there are many things that we can do at this point and that we are capable of doing them, but we are not sure which one to prioritize now or later for our customers.

3. I sometimes feel that it’s difficult to know if we are making progress and if we are moving the needle on the right topics. Also, how can we add more transparency or visibility to it?

4. I think we get so deep into daily work and unexpected firefighting that we lose sight of what matters most. Sometimes I feel I don’t have the time to get it all done and with quality.

5. I feel that maybe we are not fast enough making decisions or performing at our best.

I believe these five concerns, and many others, are normal. We are in the same state now with a-change. At any given time, we’ll be trying to answer a handful of questions while doing other things on the go, but it’s important to always be able to identify the riskiest areas of the business as quickly as possible. Yeah, cool, but…

How do you do that?

Well, I said to the Co-Founder, as it is in our mission to help startups building innovative companies

“Why don’t I help you help yourself? And you also help me with an experiment?”

We made an agreement.

I told this Co-Founder that I’ve seen those kind of symptoms before and shared my experiences using a framework that I’ve seen work in my personal and professional life (not all the time of course).

My first exposure to trying to solve some similar issues dates back to my corporate job in 2010 and the main inspiration for the Lean Startup. Yes, the Toyota Production System. Back in Japan, I dug deeper on what is called Hoshin Kanri or “Management by Objectives”. Here’s what it looked like for us:

Hoshin Karin at Toyota, A.K.A, Manangement by Objectives.

Complicated, right? Well yes and no.

The strong culture at Toyota made it look like this:

Organizational pyramid. OKRs at the core.

Easier, right? Absolutely!

I said ”Hey, how about if to get you closer to your strategy we tackle the middle point of this pyramid? Why not give OKRs a try?” I’ve encouraged my fellow founders to try it out, and I’ve seen more and more of them giving it a shot with great results.

For those who are not super familiar with them, a mega quick overview of OKRs:

When talking about goal setting, there’s two fundamental questions you want to ask yourself:

“Where do I want to go?” or “What do I want to achieve?”

“How will I know I’m getting there?” or “How do I know I achieved it?”

So, let’s imagine I want to drive from Tristeza Bar in Germany (Tristeza = Sadness), right next to my house to Happyland in Austria. It would take me more or less seven hours to get there by train.

OKRs metaphor. Thank you Thomas Jakel, for this example in an inspiring talk about Founder’s Mindset.

The left side is our Google Maps with the destination we want to go, our Objective.

The right side, our GPS, is how close we’re getting there, our Key Result.

Now, there are different ways to get to the destination, which are the things you could do to get there. In this case, perhaps taking a train. These are called initiatives. With those two concepts, having an Objective and Key Results to achieve it, you’re already on the path to setting OKRs successfully!

So back to my Co-Founder friend:

He agreed and we held the experiment.

We don’t yet know what the end results are going to be, but there are 5 lessons we learned through the process:

Lesson 1: there’s a learning opportunity for both. Here, goal setting scores and how to improve.
  1. We can create and deliver value for customers and ourselves while “getting out of the building”. Our experiments translated to what we coined at a-change a learning journey. Learning a new framework while getting actionable next steps that can make a difference in your current work and can bring the impact you are expecting towards your strategy (plus generating big learnings for us in our early stage).
  2. You can give your startup a good starting point with OKRs by just investing three hours. You’re able to engage your team with your shared vision, and in the end, feel inspired and empowered to make decisions towards it while knowing how to follow through.
  3. We don’t need to only talk to customers, not at this point or in the future, we also need to listen, and carefully. As I listened to the Co-Founder.
  4. I’m starting to realize the importance of OKRs in your life in general. Unconsciously, I’ve been treating my life the same way since I got introduced to this complex picture above (Hoshin Kanri). Ever since, my mindset has shifted to think that way about goals, personally and professionally.
  5. Finally, I realized how powerful this tool could be for this startup in their quest of changing the world. The female business world. Now I can disclose them. Find them at www.CoWomen.com.

And a bonus…

I firmly believe that OKRs can get us from Sadness to Happiness

But for sure in more than 7 hours! ;)

If you’re working in a startup and have had these 5 concerns, maybe we could help you and you can help us. Here’s a quick quiz to help you out!

If not, you can also take the quiz! :)

Thanks for reading!

Luis Borges

Written by

Creating meaningful opportunities for freelancers by matching their growth needs and experiences with innovative companies | Customer Developer @ fizzibl.com 💡

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