The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development

The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer DevelopmentI was reading Eric Reis’ Lessons Learned blog yesterday and he talked about The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development. I begrudgingly read Steve Blank‘s Four Steps to the Epiphany, which is a must read for any entrepreneur (begrudgingly read because it is not the easiest reading). It is a great book, but it’s tough reading.

“And Steve is the first to admit that it’s a “turgid” read, without a great deal of narrative flow. It’s part workbook, part war story compendium, part theoretical treatise, and part manifesto. It’s trying to do way too many things at once. On the plus side, that means it’s a great deal. On the minus side, that has made it a wee bit hard to understand.” Eric Reis

I bought a copy yesterday based on Eric’s recommendation. It is a phenomenal resource for learning Customer Development. Patrick and Brant have done a great job writing an understanable how-to guide for using Customer Development and Agile Development in a Lean Startup. The book includes a shout out to our friends Dan Martell at Flowtown and Sean Ellis at 12in6.  

The book incorporates the wisdom and experience of real world practitioners of Customer Development in the 5 years since the inital publication of The Four Steps. For the first time a lot of entrepreneurs will hopefully begin to understand a technology adoption lifecycle and the marketing of products/services. I wrote a chapter in Cost-Justifying Usability back in 2005 where I had first encountered Steve’s Customer Development Methodology from his course notes in 2004 at Stanford (yeah, I know that’s crazy). In the chapter, titled “Valuing Usability for Startups”, I argued that getting out talking to customers and testing your hypotheses were key to success. However, I proposed using the Bell/Mason Diagnostic for evaluating the stage of corporate development in order to calculate Return-on-Investment of usability. In hindsight, I probably should have instructed entrepreneurs and usability professionals to look at processes like Customer Development to search for a “repeatable and scalable business model”.

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development is a short mandatory introduction to using customer and agile development to search for a  repeatable and scalable business model.

Discount for StartupNorth Readers

A few quick emails to Patrick today, and he offered to provide StartupNorth readers a 25% discount on any version of the book. First ten StartupNorth readers to go to can use the discount code.

Discount code: STARTUPNORTH (limited to the first 10 users)

Good luck!

Engines for Massively Scaleable Startups

I was excited to attend MeshU (maybe a little too excited). I love it when events over deliver. MeshU was a fantastic conference. I saw two of the best in-the-trenches startup sessions with Sean Ellis and Dan Martell. They both presented ideas that are changing how I think about product design and go-to-market activities. April Dunford then added an updated framework  for product marketing which was a great evolution of traditional product marketing. Sean Ellis added his model for Key Elements of Massively Scaleable Startups that presented a new idea of the marketing basics that need to be present for high potential startups.

Key Elements of Massively Scalable Startups - A Marketing Framework based on April Dunford & Sean Ellis

The breaking down of 4 elements coupled with traditional strategy and tactics make for a very effective marketing evaluation of most startups.

Gratification Engine

The Gratification Engine was a new piece of the marketing activities. What differentiates must have products and services? How do you reward your customers? How does your application turn “cold prospects into highly gratified customers”? This is a change in my thinking about the role of making your users feel like rockstars.  

“you can’t force customers to want, need or like what you have created.  Building an effective gratification engine is an iterative process driven by a lot of prospective customer feedback.  Once you get the basics right, your process of gratifying users can be optimized with tools like Performable for landing pages and KISSmetrics for full funnel tracking/improvement (I’m an advisor to both).” – Sean Ellis

 It builds upon seminal work of Kathy Sierra about engaging users. The Gratification Engine pushes this out beyond the existing experience but treats the conversion and effectiveness of new users.

Making a Bestseller

Making a Bestseller by Kathy SierraHow fast and how far can you take your users? by Kathy Sierra

 Where this hit home for me was starting to think about the game mechanics used for upsell and cross sell offers for new customers. Dan Martell, Dave McClure, Marc Gingras and I had breakfast at StartupCampMontreal and discussed how to build effective offers for existing customers to invite their friends to an application. There was a great discussion about using game mechanics around the offer. You have existing users that if they invite new users, i.e., their friends, where if the friends sign up that both the friend and the user get new unique functionality. It changed my thinking about many times I’ve received an offer to sign up from a friend for a service, and how the effectiveness of this would change with some basic game mechanics:

“Jevon has invited you to join X. Jevon is 1 sign up away from enabling the super awesome next level feature. Sign up now and enable the feature for both you and Jevon”

This all has to be done in an open, honest and unintrusive manner. But it’s about how do you enhance the lives and experiences of customers and potential customers. There are great opportunities to use game design and mechanics to help improve the experience and conversion rates in web and mobile applications.

Marketing metrics

Photo by Darren_Hester

Mike McDerment from FreshBooks gave  a great presentation on the basics of web application marketing metrics. He focuses on the metrics, systems and reporting that all companies should be building into web and mobile applications. It is a must read for any entrepreneur building a web application.


Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)
How much does it cost you to get a customer? It’s a simple enough calculation, how much do you spend on sales and marketing to acquire each customer. Roll up your staffing costs, your ad buys, your outbound marketing, etc.
Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)
How much revenue do users generate? How do you track it? Does it change based on segment? How do you increase it?
What percentage of your existing customer base leave every month? This is different than CPA because this is about customer satisfaction and retention. Don’t think this is important? According to April Dunford churn is a killer. “The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%”
Lifetime Value (LTV)
How long does a customer continue as a subscriber? Does their ARPU change over time? Do you have ways to increase their spend or reduce their churn?

These basic metrics are expanded by Dave McClure in AARRR! Startup Metrics for Pirates. Where the metrics are divided into 3 main categories:

  1. Get Users (Acquisition, Referral)
  2. Drive Usage (Activation, Retention)
  3. Make Money (Revenue)
View more presentations from Dave McClure.

It seems so simple on surface, but as CEOs and startups we need to be committed to building the systems and metrics into our products. I was just floored at MeshU when I heard Dan Martell talk about the Startup Immune System where they are beginning to use the lower level business performance metrics to automatically rollback design changes based on performance against the baseline. You can only start doing if you’re building on top of metrics. The idea of having automated your software deployment and sufficiently built business metric baselines that you could autoroll back poor performing changes. At Nakama, I wanted this so much. Not because I had bad developers but because we often made design decisions based on limited customer feedback and I wanted the system to protect me from my own hubris.

Metrics are good place to start. One of the best ways to understand how your company is performing is to begin measurement. Mike has done a great job