What Is Customer Discovery for?
Balancing the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns
It’s not just about learning what you don’t know; it’s also about learning what you haven’t even imagined.
Notice how the questions in the inner cone differ from the broader questions in the outer cone. The more specific questions, while crucial to the validation of your hypotheses, would ideally come later in your interview so as to not bias the broader questions that may otherwise yield unexpected insights.
Also, for perhaps a more tangible visual, look at the script below and see how many questions you can open with before getting to explicit validation of specific hypotheses. Open up the conversation and let the customer define what’s meaningful before inserting your own biases.
Start with the general before drilling down into specifics.
Serendipity may not sound like a great business strategy, but the process of customer discovery is a tactic that will put you in position to capture those eureka moments. You may not like the idea that some of your best innovations will come from someone else’s words rather than from yours, or from a formula that you’ve concocted, but if you’re in the game of innovation and entrepreneurship ambiguity simply comes with the territory. Or, if you’re a large enterprise aiming to be customer-centric, there’s an inherent conflict with customer-centricity and actively limiting customer input.
In closing, I’ll leave you with some real-life examples of serendipitous product discoveries. They weren’t all the result of customer discovery, but they’re nonetheless an homage to the value of learning what you don’t know you don’t know.
🤞 Great products that were discovered in part by accident 🤞
- Post-it Notes: Invented by a 3M scientist who was actually trying to create a stronger adhesive
- Viagra: Originally developed as a treatment for high blood pressure, but found to have a surprising side effect.
- Play-Doh: Originally marketed as wallpaper cleaner, but was later discovered to be a popular toy when children started playing with it.
- Penicillin: Discovered by Alexander Fleming after he noticed that a mold had contaminated one of his petri dishes, killing the bacteria on it.
- The microwave oven: Invented by Percy Spencer when he noticed that a candy bar in his pocket melted while he was working with radar equipment.
- The slinky: Invented by Richard James who was trying to create a meter designed to monitor power on naval battleships, but accidentally knocked over a spring and watched it “walk” down a stack of books.
- Chocolate chip cookies: Ruth Wakefield, who owned the Toll House Inn, was making cookies and ran out of baker’s chocolate, so she substituted with broken pieces of Nestle chocolate, hoping it would melt and spread throughout the dough. Instead, the chocolate held its shape and the chocolate chip cookie was born.
- Bubble wrap: Invented by engineers Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes who were trying to create a textured wallpaper, but the product was unsuccessful. They later found that the air bubbles in the material made great packaging material.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Carmona is an experienced entrepreneur, investor, and operator. Prior to joining ID8, Tom was Managing Director at Symphony Alpha Ventures, where he oversaw early-stage investments in enterprise SaaS, healthcare IT, and healthcare services. Tom holds an MBA with a specialization in entrepreneurial management from the University of Wisconsin and lives in Nashville with his wife and three children. Before entering the business world Tom completed both the Peace Corps and Teach For America programs. In his spare time he enjoys arguing about NBA history with his friends.
We’d love to put our experience with Fortune 500 companies to work for you