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9 Tips for Getting Out of the Building

One of the tenents of the Customer Development/Lean Startup methodology is “Get Out of the Building.” This means leave your basement or your garage and go talk with real people about what you are trying to do. For a B2B startups, this is crucial, because many of the companies you will be speaking with could be your first customers. For B2C startups, “Getting Out” is just as important – it’s the only way to get feedback on your product ideas before your prototype is ready to share. I’ve met with a dozen or more people over the last two weeks about Yesware and our choices ahead. Here are my observations about Getting Out of the Building.

Actually, she can stay in the building.

1. This is what all that networking and tweeting and posting is for

We spend a reasonably large part of our day staying in touch with our social networks. This is why. Reach out to the people you’ve been tweeting with and ask for their expertise. If at all possible, meet them in person. Or end a phone call with a request to meet in person in a month to review progress and hear more feedback. As Steve Blank says, ask friends for references to present to, rather than presenting your idea only to friends. I posted tips for emailing work acquaintances for meetings like this.

2. Movie or demo, no slides

Don’t bring slides. My only AV prop was the movie we have on the homepage. If we had a working demo, I would have brought that, although I do like being able to watch the person while they watch the movie. Slides kill enthusiasm like a mallet to the head. People feel trapped by the tyranny of the deck. Bring a notepad, your list of questions and something to show your movie or demo on.

3. Look for longing and glazing

As you play the movie, watch their eyes and listen to their grunts. When someone grunts or “hmmms” write down what they were looking at. The simplest features in Yesware were the things people responded to the most: filing inbound mail, setting goals, and updating contact info automatically. Some of the more complicated ideas, especially some of our reporting ideas, caused major eye-glazing. That’s good to note too.

Range of Expressions during product demos

Here's a typical range of expressions during my Yesware explanation


4.”There’s an infinite demand for the unavailable”

These words of advice came from Jim Dickie, who was as helpful as could be. He meant “Don’t get too excited about people’s feedback.” At the earliest stages of product development, peoples’ minds are filling in the void with the way your service should work in their minds. This is the excitement on Christmas Eve. If you’ve presented convincingly, this is the product that will solve their pain. There’s bound to be some major differences between their enthusiasm now and their first experience with the product. Don’t take it too seriously either way.

5. Ask about their process

There is an amazing variety of work habits within a single industry or company. Very early on in each conversation, I asked these people specific questions about how do they do their job. I asked how many unread emails they have, how many active email conversations they have, how and how often they update their CRM system, how they encouraged or mandated their teams to do so, and more. By getting very specific about their methods, I walked away with a much better understanding of how Yesware could fit into their lives. And the people I talked with enjoyed the conversation more – everyone who takes a meeting with you is going to like sharing insights about their work life with an interested person.

6. Don’t Get Specific About Price

These early conversations are great for getting feedback on pricing for your product. There’s nothing for the person to buy yet, so no one feels pressured. The service works great in their minds, so people don’t feel skeptical. Resist the temptation to name the price you’ve got in your spreadsheet. I asked the pricing question this way, “If one of the salespeople you managed wanted to expense this, at what point do you say “OK, no problem” and at what point do you have to really think about it?” The first number was a lot higher than I thought it would be. I never would have gotten there if I had anchored the discussion with my spreadsheet number.

7. Only Ask One Big Question

In the course of these interviews, I asked lots and lots of questions, but there was only One Big Question. After catching up a bit, and the introduction to the idea, and the movie and my specific little questions about how they work, there really was only time for One Big Question. Mine was “Should we sell Yesware directly to salespeople (as we’ve been planning) or shift and focus more on enterprise sales?” It’s a big topic, and everyone I spoke with wanted some time to consider it. Moreover, a number of people kept circling back to it, adding to their thoughts, adjusting their answer as they considered it again. Make sure there’s time for this level of contemplation. Don’t pack too many knotty topics in your time.

8. Take notes and transcribe for your team

Is this a pain? A little. But you’ll learn a ton by going over the comments again, and you’ll multiply the benefit of these meetings by sharing them with everyone on your team. Sending around these notes is often more inspiring for the development people, because they rarely get out of the building.

9. It’s not going to answer all your questions

I didn’t get a definitive answer to my One Big Question. So far people have been pretty evenly split, with one saying “Do both.” That ambiguity is ok with me. There’s a lot in a startup. But by getting out and talking with people, you get unexpected insights into the direction you are traveling. Exactly where we’ll end up is unknown.