Where to Start? Always Start With Customers!

March 11, 2009 · Posted in business, economics, entrepreneurship, innovation, mindset 

I recently taught a short introduction to Predictive Innovation class for a group of design students at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). One of the students listed his biggest problem as, “not knowing where to start.” He had a product idea and hundreds of ways to approach it but he didn’t know how to begin to get it to market.

I must apologize to that student because I did not clearly answer his question. The correct answer of where to start is always, “Start With Customers!”

Outcome diagram the customers’ desires. Find the most pressing must be satisfied outcome then base your product and marketing around that desire. Make sure there are enough customers you can reach and who will pay for the product or service you plan to offer. If you can, pre-sell your product to them. Use their up front commitment to get financing to develop the product. That might mean actually having them pay or it might mean showing the width and depth of demand to investors.

Figure out what products the customers already own or use and try to use those as resources to develop your product. If they already own items that perform 80% of the tasks then its much easier for you to be an add-on rather than reinventing the wheel. For instance if they have a laptop with a USB connector then you can get power for your device from their laptop battery. Or you can use the keyboard and screen of their laptop to see and change settings in your small USB device.

Figure out all the desires that your product or future or generations of your product could satisfy. Look at the lifetime value of the customer relationship.

If you’re planning to partner with another company to get your product to market they are your customers as much as the end consumer. Draw the outcome diagram for all the desires related to buying and selling your product. Make sure you satisfy those outcomes.

The particulars of manufacturing or a design alternative over another are just details. The most important thing to remember, “Start With Customers.”