Customer Validation

Three Ways to Understand your Startup’s Customer Needs

The Job to be Done, Customer Journey, and Needs Canvas

Erik van der Pluijm
Erik van der Pluijm
Oct 14 2019 - NaN min read

Start finding out what your customer’s job to be done is — Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

Any serious new project, whether it is a startup, a new product, or another type of venture, is a big commitment. It will take you time, money, and effort. There simply are no ‘easy business ideas’. So it makes sense to try and make your effort worthwhile. Sounds good, but where do you start?

If you build it, they won't come

Ash Maurya, entrepreneur and one of the founders of the Lean Startup movement, is clear about it: don’t sit down and write a comprehensive business plan. Instead, start right away with finding out what your customers really need.

Life is too short to build something nobody wants

- Ash Maurya

At the same time, starting a new venture is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Doing something you believe in will make it easier to make it a success. The best startup ideas, therefore, are those that lie on the intersection of what your customer needs and what you can provide.

Tip! The Ikigai Canvas is a great tool to help you make sense of what people need vs. what you are able to do and what you love to do.

So, how do you find out what your customer really needs?

The first thing you need to understand is that you probably haven’t got the first idea of what they need. Even if you have been in the business for years, even if you have experienced the problem you want to solve first hand. At most, you know what you want.

So, right now, admit to yourself that you don’t know what others needs. That attitude will make it possible to be open to the input and feedback of other people, and will allow you to start a process that will bring you closer and closer to really understanding what your customer needs.

If you don’t, it will be very tempting to convince yourself you have all the answers. And while that may feel safe and cozy, it is the riskiest strategy you can adopt.

1. Know the Job to be Done

We’ve been talking about customer needs, but what are customer needs? Clayton Christensen came up with a great definition, in the form of the Job to be Done.

In his view, customers, rather than placidly waiting around for your product to appear, are actually super busy leading their own lives, trying to get things done for themselves. And, occasionally, while trying to do those ‘jobs to be done’, they run into trouble. Something is making it harder or even impossible to do what they want to do.

Tip! You may already know the Job to be Done from the Value Proposition Canvas and Value Proposition Design. Digging into these jobs right away will make your own job designing a compelling value proposition much easier!

By doing this, he takes into account not just how customers interact with your product, but rather how they operate in their own world, which enriches the the picture.

At any moment in time, a customer may have multiple jobs they are trying to get done. To help them get those jobs done, they can ‘hire’ your product or service. You need to understand the conscious or subconscious choice people make to use your product or service to help them reach their goal.

In Clayton Christensen’s famous ‘milkshake video’, he explains the steps he took to help an undisclosed fast food chain to develop a new milkshake. Simply adding a new flavour didn’t cut it. What was needed was an understanding of why people bought a milkshake in the first place. What was the job they wanted to get done? And why was the milkshake the best solution to get that job done? If you want the answers, watch the video, since mr Christensen explains it much nicer than I could hope to do.

So, in summary, first, you need to find out what the job is that your customer tries to get done. What are the major hurdles in their everyday life that you can help them with?

2. Map the Customer Journey

It’s important to once again realize yourself that the only people that truly know what these jobs are are the customers themselves. In your meeting room you won’t be able to come up with more than assumptions of what these jobs may be. The true test lies in talking to your customers. And, when they do, they’ll tell you about all sorts of things.

One great way to start making sense of what different customers tell you is to map out customer journeys with them. Together with your customer, go over the key moments in their day, focusing on their most immediate needs. When you do this for multiple customers, you’ll start to see patterns. Parts of the journey will overlap. Look for the common denominator. What is the ‘job’ that keeps coming back?

3. Separate latent needs from basic needs

Once you have found a few candidate needs that come back in multiple customer journeys, go back to your customers and try to find out more. Which of the candidate jobs is most annoying? What do they already do about them? It’s now time to separate the ‘latent needs’ from the ‘basic needs’. Latent needs are needs your customers may not yet be aware of, or that they label as a ‘nice to have’. These needs may be very important to you, but they’re not (yet) to your customer. In contrast, basic needs are things they run into on a daily basis. These are the things that cost them time, money, and their good mood. These are the jobs you could help them with.

Tip! To help make sense of latent and basic needs, you can use the customer need canvas.

What you’re probably looking for, is something that is a basic need for a large group of people. Ideas that target the bottom of the pyramid in this canvas are relatively easy business ideas to make successful. People simply have little choice but to solve this problem.

Think about things like:

- Housing

- Food

- Relationships

- Health

There isn’t a person on the planet that can do without those. It’s your job to find out what the basic needs are in the niche you’re targeting. What are the things your customers must deal with, without having a choice?

-- Keep experimenting 🚀

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