Finding a customer problem Fit is definitly the base of a startup. Unfortunuatly I hardly meet any startup who is during their early stage looking for their Customer-Problem fit. Startups or founders think they have a good idea, which is actually the solution. There are many quiet good reasons that they don’t have to doubt that their solution will solve a problem worth to solve. But to be sure, it is better to validate the problem on your potential customers first.

The main reason not to validate it first is -at least as far as I can see- that it is much more interested to create a solution then to talk to potential clients or users. Besides it seems to be much easier to create a solution and then go to your potential client to sell it.

But selling a solution without talks to potential customers before is very very difficult, we see in practice.

On the other side talking to potential clients before even thinking about a solution is by far the best you can do because:

  • Can you find a problem to fix? (or, How to Validate a problem?)
  • Is the problem painful enough?
  • Are there enough people care?
  • Do they try already to solve it?

These are signs you have found a problem worth tackling.

So it helps you to:

  • learn to create the right solution
  • create a base with potential clients, who buy your first solution
  • save a lot of money and time by talking first and then start building (I speak from own experience)

Maybe it is not so difficult to talk to potential customers about the problem you would like to solve if you use more structured method, called “customer interviews” within Lean Startup.


Ash Maurya described how to do customer interviews in practice in his book Running Lean. The base to test a hyphothesis you make in the Lean Canvas under problem and Customer segments. The customer interview is structured as follows:

  1. Welcome: 2 min – set the stage
  2. Collect demographics: 2 min – Test customer segment
  3. Tell-a-story: 2 min – Set the problem segment
  4. Problem ranking: 4 min – Test problem: State the top one to three problems and ask the interviewee to rank them.
  5. Explore customer’s worldview: 15 min – test problem: Go through each problem in turn. Ask interviewees how they address the problem today.
  6. Wrapping up: 2 min – Hook and ask
  7. Document result: 5 min

The key to qualitative data is patterns and pattern recognition. Here are a few positive patterns to look out for when interviewing people:

  • Potential customers want to pay you right away
  • Potential customers  are actively trying to (or have tried to) solve the problem in question
  • Potential customers talk a lot and ask a lot of questions demonstrating a passion for the prolem
  • Potential customers lean forward and are animated (positive body language)

Here are a few negative patterns to out for:

  • Interviewees are distracted
  • Interviewees talk a lot, but it is not about the problem or the issues at hand (they are rambling)
  • Their shoulders are slumped or they are slouching in their chairs (negative body language)

How do you know if a problem is really painful enough?

Based on the strcuture Ash Maurya described you can add points during the interview. Below a method how make a score for customer interviews:

1. Did the interviewee successfully rank the problems you presented?

  • Yes: The interviewee the problems with strong interest (irrespective of ranking): 10 points
  • Sort of: They couldn’t decide which problem was really painfull but they were still really interested in the problems: 5 points
  • No: They struggled with this, or they spent more time talking about other problems they have: 0 points

2. Is the interviewee actively trying to solve the problems, or has he done so in the past?

  • Yes: They are trying to solve the problem with Excel and fax machines. You may stuck gold: 10 points
  • Sort of: They spend a bit of time fixing the problem but just consider it the price of doing their job. They are not trying to fix it: 5 points
  • No: They don’t really spend time tackling the problem and are okay with the status quo. It is not a big problem: 0 points

3. Was the interviewee engaged and focused throughout the interview?

  • Yes: They were hanging on your every word, finishing your sentences, and ignoring their smartphone: 8 points
  • Sort of: They were interested, but showed distraction or didn’t contribute comments unless you actively solicited them: 4 points
  • No: They tuned, looked at their phone, cut the meeting short or generally seeemed entirely detached – like they were doing you a favor by meeting with you: 0 points

4. Did the interviewee agree to a follow-up meeting/interview (where you will present the solution)

  • Yes: They are demanding the solution “yesterday”: 8 points
  • Yes, when you asked them to: They are ok with scheduling another meeting, but suddenly their calendar is booked for the next month or so: 4 points
  • No: You both realize there’s no point showing them anything in terms of solutions: 0 points

5 Did the interviewee offer to refer to others to you for interviews

  • Yes: They actively suggested people you should talk to without being asked: 4 points
  • Yes, when you asked them to: They suggested others at the end, in response to your question: 2 points
  • No: They couldn’t recommend people you should speak with: 0 points

6. Did the interviewee offer to pay you immediately for the solution?

  • Yes: They offered to pay you for the product without being asked, and named a price: 3 points
  • Yes, when you asked them to: They offered to pay for the product: 2 points
  • No: They didn’t offer to buy and use it: 0 points
  • 0 points (and ask yourself some hard questions about whether you can reach the market at scale)

A score of 31 or higher is a good score. Anything under it is not.
(source: Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz)

Some tips to find people to talk to you can find in a previous post:

More interesting tips about customer interviews and customer discovery you can find in the following articles:

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