[Entrepreneurship Course] Customer Interviews

This is a sample lesson from my Entrepreneurship Course currently available free of charge for a short time. Registration Link.

How to take Customer Interviews

Even though you have identified a problem, you shouldn’t start building anything just yet. A lot of people who enter entrepreneurship for the first time are technical experts. They maybe skilled engineers or lawyers or hair-dressers or the like. These people are raring to start working and to build things.

This is because the problem you have identified is not “validated” yet. You might have constructed the problem from your own world view. But what really matters is the “perceived” problems of your customers. For this, you will need to get out of your own world and talk to potential customers with an open mind.

For example, you want to build a scientifically proven play school product for two year old kids. You might think that you are solving the problem of low quality early education for infants. The real problem, however, for parents (actual customers) might be that they want their kids to be engaged allowing themselves to take a break from demanding parenting activities. You get the point.

The first product I built was an enterprise software. It was in the B2B SaaS category (Business to Business; Software as a Service). While I showcased all the excellent features it had, some customers bought it to fulfil administrative criteria that were completely unknown to me.

One last important point I want to make before showing how to validate a problem.

Technical experts work day in and day out on the same problem to become the experts that they are. This gives them a larger than life image of the problems they are working on. It is little surprise when they enter the market, customers don’t perceive the same problems as big enough. Or painful enough. They have been surviving just fine without your product!

Customer interviews

Ideally, you should interview few people to get a better understanding of the “market”. Customer interviews are not easy. They require a fundamental shift in thinking to put yourself in their shoes. You have to be on the lookout for tacit needs rather than just explicit needs. Here are some tips for your interviews:

  1. Do not pitch your product. Instead, try to understand the problems faced by your potential customer explicitly and tacitly.
  2. Prepare a list of specific questions. All questions should be aimed at extracting the real problems faced by the customer. Ask a lot of “How” questions to learn about the current way they do things.
  3. Understand incentives: Try to understand the incentives that drives prospects. Do they want to impress their boss, wife/husband, etc.? Why will they take decision X versus decision Y?
  4. Listen more than you speak. Make sure you empathetically listen. When people are talking in a flow, you are likely to receive the best insights.
  5. Systematically record the results. Use a notebook or a google form or any tool to note your findings. Compare responses in order to find patterns. Is everyone having similar problems? Are there obvious customer segments you can see?

IMPORTANT NOTE: These initial interviews are not the only interviews you will ever take. Don’t base your assumptions on them for the many years ahead! When you actually start building your product and hitting the market, you will learn new things. This will re-validate your initial beliefs.

One of the best startup books I have read is “Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve Blank. The book details the “customer validation” model that is basically a startup working for years to continuously validate the customer and the problem!