The Lean LaunchPad at Stanford—Class 4: Customer Hypotheses


The Stanford Lean LaunchPad class was an experiment in a new model of teaching startup entrepreneurship. This post is part four. Part one is here, two is here and three is here. Syllabus is here.

Week 4 of the Class

Last week the teams were testing their hypotheses about their Value Proposition (their company’s product or service.) This week they were testing who the customer, user, payer for the product will be (and discovering if they have a multi-sided business model, one with both buyers and sellers.) Many of them had heard the phrase “product/market fit” before, but now they were living it. And for some of the teams the halcyon days of “we’re taking this class so we can just build our great product and get credit for it” had come to a screeching halt. The news from customers was not good.

Let the real learning begin.

The Nine Teams Present

This week, our first team up was PersonalLibraries (the team that had software to help researchers manage, share and reference the thousands of papers in their personal libraries.) Going into the first four weeks their business model hypotheses looked like this:Last week we told them team: 1) see if the market size was really large enough to support a business, and 2) to find that out they were going to have to 
talk to more customers
 outside of Stanford. So during the past week, the team got feedback from >60 researchers from 
cold calls, in-person interviews, and a web survey. (We were impressed when we found that they did the in-person interviews by hiring for $39 to set up test scenarios, gave the users specific tasks to accomplish with their minimum viable product, videotaped the customer interactions and summarized customer likes and dislikes.) The good news was that customers said that their minimum viable product (easily organizing research papers) was correct. The bad news was that users would play with their product on-line for a while and leave and never return. Politely it was described as “poor customer retention” but in reality it was because the product was really hard to use.

But it was their market size survey that had the team (and us) even more concerned; last weeks “hot” market of biomed researchers looked like it was only $30m market, and the total available reference manager market was another $80M.The question was, even if they got the product right, were there enough customers to make it a business?

If you can’t see the slides above, click here.

For next week, they decided to improve the product by adding more tutorials, do a 2nd Customer Survey and begin to create demand for their product with AdWords Value Prop Testing and Landing Page A/B Testing.

The feedback from the teaching team was that … Next Page »

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Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at Follow @sgblank

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