My four favorite arguments for why customer development is stupid

Every once in a while someone tells me that they’re intentionally not doing any customer development. Here’s a list of the reasons I’ve gotten for this.

– “This is so cool, how could anyone not want this?” Actual words a startup said to me about their product. Even when they identified a niche that would form the core user base of their product they refused to talk to anyone in that demographic (also outside of their social circles). The reason can only be fear. If it’s arrogance, then there’s no hope for them.

– “It’s antithetical to having vision.” Well, it’s possible that your vision is a hallucination. Which is better? To pursue a vision without understanding how it fits with your customers needs or to have a vision of serving your customers better than anyone ever before?

– “Twitter didn’t do it and look how successful they are.” That’s a lack of understanding of Twitter’s history. Their service started in 2006 as a way to let Odeo’s team show each other where they were. It soon proved itself to be useful to a broader population as well as addictive. You could say that they stumbled upon what became Twitter, but are you likely to be as lucky?

– “Apple didn’t do it and look how successful they are.” Twist on the above. Apple doesn’t go out to ask people what kind of device they want, they just do it, right? But they do deeply understand needs and what people are ready for. They’re also not innovating totally new products, they’re taking an established product (mp3 players, smartphones, tablets) and making them better with a ton of expertise, plus providing a supporting market environment (iTunes, App store) and incredible marketing. Are you really going to immediately do the same? Plus, Apple had failures too. Some of them, such as Lisa and Newton were results of ignoring what people needed.

There’s a great quote from Napoleon’s memoirs. He wrote:
“The greater one is, the less will he must have. He depends on events and circumstances. I had few really definite ideas, and the reason for this was that, instead of obstinately seeking to control circumstances, I obeyed them.”

Based on that, he conquered most of Europe.

Filed in: lean startup