TLDR: My raw written and mental notes from an SFU RADIUS Slingshot event February 27th
The notes I made at the event:
About the event…
Firstly, for those that haven’t heard about it, RADIUS is a social innovation hub based out of the Beedie School of Business, SFU, and located in the heart of Vancouver at the Charles Chang Innovation Centre. To learn more about the event where my notes took place, go here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/radius-slingshot-open-workshop-product-market-fit-tickets-92105125911
Almost didn’t go…
Yesterday, I visited SFU Beedie School for the first time. I got up pretty early and was about to head home about half-way through my morning routine and errands, but decided to commit and talk to Beedie about doing my Masters.
I’m so glad I went!
Big wins for me yesterday were:
- Talking with Brian about the MOT program in September
- Meeting other Entrepreneurs on their journey
- Meeting a friend, Kushank, from Product BC building accruits.com
- Discovering a potential early adopter and beta user for my startup, Jas Johal for dietician.ai
- Revisiting the idea of value-based product development, something I saw before at strategyzer.com
- Discovering thedesignsquiggle.com
Some programs/links I need to followup on still:
- Founders Institute and Cost Capital Competition – funding
- SFU’s Trampoline program – validation
- VJ had a list of several programs in BC that he mentioned but need to get the list
Alan Albert from marketfit.com was great. I have plenty of quotes and little nuggets of wisdom from him. Here is one:
“Be careful not to be married to a sample size of 1”– unknown
Alan’s primary premise for the talk was this: How can we reduce the likelihood of failure for startups? 80% is fairly typical across the broad spectrum of startups and businesses when you look at the raw data.
Startups fail. It happens. Research typically shows a fairly consistent pattern when looking at failing startups. The top 3 reasons are:
- No market need
- Ran out of cash
- Not the right team
You can learn more about why startups fail here: https://www.cbinsights.com/research/startup-failure-reasons-top/
So, as a founder, what can you do to reduce these risks (by the way, number one, no market need is way ahead of the others on the list)?
Easy in theory, but harder in practice: talk to customers.
This isn’t just about talking to Customers to ask them if they like your idea (google confirmation bias). It’s about asking your Customers…
- What they really care about
- What’s important to them
- How they buy products similar to yours (or a replacement for)
- What values do they hold most dearly
By the way, you can see the complete list in Alan’s slide deck. I will link to it here once I get a reply from the team at SFU
These questions aren’t the same as traditional exit-store surveys that you might see. These are value-based conversations that ask questions much more qualitatively with the aim of truly finding out what your customers value most.
You can learn more about how to have value-led conversations when building your product by running a special type of research called “Value Discovery Research”. There is also a book Alan recommends called The Mom Test.
As part of the workshop, we did a group activity where we asked the person next to use to talk about a product they recently purchased, and then we tried running a value discovery conversation with them.
That exercise was great and gave me some key insight into my own work at dietician.ai.
For me personally, the big takeaway was this:
dietician.ai is targeted for people that care about calories. Our early adopters and users believe that weight loss and fitness is a “calories in / calories out” equation.
Before the workshop, I would not have made this discovery, so I’m really glad I attended just for that progress alone.
This new information also led me to think about a future “moat builder” for dietician.ai: if my target customers care about the calorie equation, then why not offer and publish regular research and lab tests on the calories of uncommon foods and recipes? This is a great idea for content marketing and could help increase lead flow in the future.
The rest of this post are a series of small lessons from the workshop and from my notes (at the top of this post).
Learn more from the customers that say no
I’m on the fence about this one. I suppose, in one context (trying to optimize your lead flow) you want to talk with your ideal customer that doesn’t buy. I might add something Alan didn’t talk about: you have to be careful that you aren’t talking to customers that are not your early adopters. Simon Sinek talks about early adopters and calls them the “first 18%” (you HAVE to watch the Simon Sinek video that talks about early adopters).
If Henry Ford asked what customers want…
This part of the presentation was excellent. Alan showed a simple exercise:
It had me thinking about a key lesson I have learned over many years of design and consulting: Customers aren’t always right. Customers know their pain well, and often will innovate at the edge of their “sphere of intelligence” but need help from you to discover their pains, desires and values that actually matter.
Asking what customers want (a faster horse) vs what they truly value and care about (no shit, no hay, no horse) leads to vastly different solutions. This really can’t be underestimated in your journey of product development, ideation and validation.
I can’t remember who said it, but it’s a very commonly used (and rarely overused!) quote:
Know more about your Customer then they do– uknown
The design squiggle and product/market fit…
The design squiggle (at thedesignsquiggle.com) is a great lesson to learn. The issue with most startups is that they run around in circles trying to find product/market fit. It’s a long journey (the squiggle unravelled). Some of that journey is inevitable, but you can reduce the total length of the squiggle but adding well understood practices like agile thinking, value-based research, co-creation with customers and much more. The key lessons to learn are that you should learn early, learn often, learn well (the right way of asking customers), and iterate as often as you can to “get out of the squiggle”.
Micheal Seibel talks about product/market fit a lot and has a good benchmark to know when you have hit it in this great video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBOLk9s9Ci4
What makes your product valuable?
If Customers see value, then it’s valuable. If they don’t see value, then it isn’t valuable.– Alan Albert (I believe)
How to “show customers values” isn’t a straightforward answer at first. I think certainly, marketing and communications activities play a key role here. If you aren’t a great writer or marketer, bring someone into your team to help you work on it.
Here is one hack to improve your product marketing: care deeply about the customer and learn their core values and then your product marketing will be 100x easier.
I made that mental shift yesterday as I spoke about earlier (my ideal customer cares about calories). Knowing that my ideal customers care about calories (the counting of which I’m solving), makes it much easier to focus my product marketing and drill down into the deepest values that my target customers care about (calorie counting describing one of those values that matter).
Another good lesson was this quote:
People who share the same perception of what’s most valuable define your market segment-uknown
Think about all the small and narrow group of customers that truly care about the same values together. If you can group them together and have their values cross over yours (see the Venn diagram in my notes above), then you may have a segment that you can craft your product to serve.
Feeling FOMO leaving one segment out…
During the break, I asked Alan this question: “What if one market segment emerges early, and you have this feeling of FOMO that another segment you thought you should care about disappears?”
Alan suggested a few tips:
- Don’t build a product for everyone
- You may need to build multiple versions of your product to fit different segments
- Aim to capture one segment at a time
To be honest, I had a suspicion about this being correct, but needed to lend on Alan’s wisdom to see if my thinking needed correction or not.
What you charge changes the perception of value
Over the years as a consultant, I have learned this pretty well. Price (in most but not all cases) is a key factor in value determination. Charge too little and you are perceived as poor quality. Charge too much and you lose access to your market segment.
A great tip: the more deeply connected you are with the values that your target market cares about, the more likely they will pay a premium to buy what you offer.
To get to the top of the market…
…you must excel at satisfying their highest values, and be bad at satisfying their lowest values.
I think this idea of narrow focus and targeting and drilling down makes a lot of sense. It became abundantly clear when Alan shared a slide showing 20 different shampoos. This isn’t the slide, but it’s similar:
If you look above, each shampoo responds to different values and market segments from healthy hair to anti-dandruff to hair refresh to nourishing.
Take away the thing that’s expected and deliver something exceptional. I can’t remember where in the slides I saw this, but it really stuck with me as it’s something I’m doing at dietician.ai. I’m taking away the expected (tapping to enter nutrition) and delivering something people don’t expect but will quickly discover to be exceptional (voice-powered journaling).
Ask them about values, not features…
It’s easy to talk (and get someone else to talk) about product features. Really easy. It’s harder, however, to get them to speak about core values. These things are intimate and personal and don’t readily get shared in conversations.
Some of us don’t even share this with our loved ones, let alone some company that you buy a product from!
Alan had a great quote:
If you ask them about values, they won’t talk about features-Alan Albert
Product Prioritization – do it on values!
This was huge. I have come across many prioritization matrices but this one really hit me:
Prioritize product features based on customer values
That right there is pure gold. If you start to look more carefully at how products are made and marketed, you start to see the smarter companies using this value-based approach in their product design and roadmap.
Apple’s iPhones, for example, are “heavy on security”, just like the Mac’s that their target audience buys. This isn’t by accident.
I think value-based thinking has to become part of your startup ethos and product thinking. If you don’t, the competition definitely will! It’s the future!