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152: How To Conduct Great Customer Development Interviews

Customer development is crucial to any startup business. Customer development tells a founder what their customer base really needs. The best tool to get this information is customer interviews.

On today’s The Startup Chat we discuss how to conduct a customer interview. We also explain why founders need to do customer development interviews. Customer development is not about validating an idea. It is solely for the purpose of knowing the customer and coming up with the best solution to their need.

We are going to tell you how to get the ball rolling and what it is you’re looking for in these interviews.

Here are today’s points:

What is customer development?

Why you need to understand your customer.

Why customer development never ends.

How Hiten has used these interviews for his fundraiser project.

How to get started.

Focusing on the problem, not a solution.

Why genuineness matters.

How and why to conduct a customer visit.

Tools for Customer Development:

Survey Monkey


The 4 Steps to the Epiphany by: Steve Blank

95 Ways to Get Your First Customers

Lean Startup Machine

Create Products that People Love by Validating Your Idea First, by: Hiten Shah

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As always, you can hit us up on Twitter @Steli or @hnshah, #thestartupchat.

Steli Efti: Hey, everyone. This is Steli Efti.

Hiten Shah: This is Hiten Shah. Today, on the Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about how to do customer interviews. These are specifically around what many people call customer development. Before we really jump in, I’ll tell my story about it and how I got excited about it and learned how to do it. Then, I’m sure Steli’s got some thoughts. So I got into this a bunch of years ago. I was accidentally doing it for my first few companies back in … between 2003 and 2008. So for about five years when I think the Sass market and the market for kind of software was much less competitive. I would do a lot of things around customer support asking why to customers when they sort of had problems.

That taught me a lot about software and my business and how to improve it. Fast forward a little bit back to 2008. Basically 2006 onwards, the lead startup movement started happening with Eric Reese blogging a lot about how startups should be created especially as there was a downturn. Everyone had to get more efficient if they wanted to keep running their startup. At that time, customer development came up because a lot of the lead startup principles, the original ones, and a couple of them came from this course on customer development by Steve Blank, who’s a professor at Stanford … and I think Berkeley as well.

He wrote a book back in the day called Four Steps to the Epiphany which was all about this process he called customer development. This customer interview is just one piece of it. But the way I got really great at it is I hired a product manager at Kissmetrics a few years into the company … about a year in actually when we had really figured out the product we wanted to go after in the market. She was … her name is Cindy Alvarez. She actually wrote a book called Lean Customer Development. Her and I would learn a lot together about customer development and customer research,


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