A founder-friendly playbook for early customer discovery

A founder-friendly playbook for early customer discovery

This week, we’re sharing a step-by-step playbook for how to approach early customer discovery and user research the right way.

How to Know if Your Idea’s the Right One — A Founder’s Guide for Successful Early-Stage Customer Discovery

How do you go from a pie-in-the-sky idea to a fully-fledged product? Some founders start building right away, spinning up a (slightly shoddy) MVP for folks to react to, then iterating from there. Others take a deep-diving approach to research, setting up dozens (or even hundreds) of calls with folks to validate the idea before writing a line of code.

As a user research expert, you might expect Jeanette Mellinger to be in favor of the latter approach — but you’d be wrong.

Sure, she’s a big proponent of user research interviews as a form of validating your idea. But this slapdash mentality of trying to speak to as many folks as possible is where she finds that many well-meaning founders go astray.

In addition to her role as BetterUp’s Head of UXR, Mellinger also works closely with early-stage startup founders as First Round’s User Research Expert in Residence. To these folks, she preaches the mentality that less is more. You can glean more qualitative data points and patterns from five deep conversations than from 50 unfocused ones.

“We get nervous when we hear, ‘Oh gosh, I only spoke with five people.’ But that’s my user research magic number. If you bring that focus into it, you can get something that’s much deeper than you’d ever expect,” she says.

On the Review, we unpack her ultra-approachable three-step guide to bring more structure to early customer discovery and idea validation. Along the way, she shares plenty of low-lift tactics to ensure your approach is rigorous, but not onerous.

  • Step 1: Make a Plan. “It’s so tempting to want to ask about 10 things at once, but that’s only going to yield shallow, inch-deep responses. This is your opportunity to go deep. What are the one or two things you must learn now?”
  • Step 2: Learn without letting bias creep in. “Let’s say you start to hear something that sounds really good. That’s your alarm right there. The moment you hear, ‘Oh yeah, this product is great,’ that’s a sign to ask the counter. What is something you can push on here?”
  • Step 3: Find the right patterns. “So often teams will want to jump right into solutioning and action mode. But the more you ground yourself in the data, the more conviction you’ll have in your idea.”

Thanks, as always, for reading and sharing!

-The Review Editors

-We’re looking for a go-to-market manager in SF or NYC to help founders get their first million in revenue, faster.

-Want to know how your go-to-market motion stacks up to the best? The 2023 Product-Led Sales Benchmark Report is out now!

-Shreyas Doshi is hosting a product leadership masterclass seminar on March 23rd.

-This video with books every entrepreneur should read.

-How to escalate a problem the right way.

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