Extreme Customer Development

Staying ahead of the curve. That’s the challenge in the Innovation Economy, where knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation are at the center of the model, driving growth. It’s also the only possible basis for sustainable differentiation in a time of accelerated change – and commoditization. Without it, you’re just another me-too company. With it, you have a chance – if you play the rest of the cards right – to win big.

For start-ups, the No. 1 secret for this, according to Promod Haque, Senior Managing Partner, Norwest Venture Partners, is bringing product marketing and product development together from Day 1. It’s not that difficult to build anything, he said in an interview at a recent TiE event. The right engineer can do it. But does anyone care? Is the market large enough?

Even beyond this, the company needs a top sales person who can give the new business access to, say, 50 customers in three months in an effort to validate the product from the customer perspective –or pivot if, in the end, that’s what you learn is needed from customers.

The No. 2 Haque secret is to network your way to people who understand your industry, get to know them, not just meet them, build relationships, seek real feedback and take it seriously. Many people learn from their own mistakes but the smart ones learn from mistakes others make as well!

So, how does a penniless start-up compensate a strategic marketing person – and that’s what we’re talking about here, not marketing communications? Haque’s suggestion is to find the right consultant, put them on an advisory board and compensate them with options that vest at intervals.

If you’re familiar with Steve Blank’s customer development process, endorsed by Eric Ries as part of his lean start-up approach, you’ll notice striking parallels. Steve’s “4 epiphanies” of customer discovery, customer validation, customer creation and company building fit right in. But here’s the thing. The Haque approach is extreme customer development because it combines marketing and product development at the outset. Not something many engineers will be comfortable with – and some will fail as a result – but probably essential in today’s environment if you want to stay ahead of the curve.

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