I’ve decided that its time for a customer pivot with a startup I’m involved with – ClientHat. I’m blogging about my progress to help keep me honest in my efforts and solicit help from the wide group of smarty-pants fellow Lean Startup aficionados to uncover my blind spots and kick me forward.
“Real progress and learning happens when you’re out of your comfort zone” – somebody said something like this at some point. I like it.
Previous Business Model Hypothesis:
The previous business model “hypothesis” for ClientHat – which is of course the sum of many individual hypothesis – was approximately:
Virtual Assistants have a significant pain point around switching costs when moving back and forth between different client web applications. They are constantly logging in and out, having to look up passwords. They will pay $9 / month for a service like this.
Result: Invalidated. The details of this I will get into in another post. Despite conducting two dozen customer and solution interviews and doing my best to validate assumptions before building a product, I built a product and the bottom line is that it seems most VAs do not pay for things.
What is the current product? Along the way, we’ve built a working software product that allows a client (such as “Johnny’s Italian Catering”) to share the passwords for its various websites with an agency (such as “My super marketing agency”) and that agency can re-share that password with a series of assistants. The actual password is not known to the agency or any subcontracted folks. The software is implemented as a browser plugin and also happens to let you open multiple windows at the same time – logged into the same site as different users. Meaning – cookies are not shared between instances of the browser.
My goal: We’ve put a bunch of development effort into this product over the past 18 months. Before we put much more time into this – I want to discover an actual customer segment that I can reach who will pay a sufficient amount to support a growing business (what is sufficient? I’ll leave that for another post). So I’m returning to Customer Development basics – and am focused on learning and speed. Meaning, quickly learning whether or not this product has legs with some customer group – and if not, moving on.
And I really need to be learning about my riskiest assumptions – namely, does anybody care to pay to have this problem solved. So, learning how to learn.
A second goal of mine is to actually get good at learning how to discover business model – and learn which of the many customer development and learn startup methods work for learning.
Customer Pivot: I’m now making a “vision leap” and am exploring the pain points that business owners (the “clients” in the above section) have with sharing passwords with various virtual assistants / consultants – and seeing if there is a decent match between a problem that some member of the value chain has and the solution I’ve already built. Note: But wait Ben, don’t start with a solution! Well, in a customer pivot – you DO have a solution. And as Steve Blank said in the 4 Steps and in his latest book – look for the customer group that requires the least change on the product dev. side. At least exhaust those options before you invest tons of more development time changing the product.
New Problem Hypothesis: 25% of startup founders experience frustrations around sharing and managing virtual assistants to help them with their business.
I’m using LinkedIn to line up Customer Development interviews
My first hunch was that start-up founders use virtual assistants and have this problem. I’ve had some positive feedback in this area, so I’ll test this. Using LinkedIn’s relatively recent ability to allow you to message other members of a group you’re a member of, I have been reaching out to start-up founders.
Methodology: I send messages to twenty startup founders on LinkedIn. The script was as follows:
My name is Ben Willman, I’m a developer/founder considering working on solving the problem of startups needing to share website passwords with assistants, consultants, interns, etc and the pain points around this (having to change passwords when folks leave, figuring out who has access to what, etc). I’m wondering if the above problem resonates with you at all and if you might have time for a brief phone call to learn more about how you experience the problem.
I promise I’m not selling anything, just looking for perspective and advice to better understand this problem – and ultimately determine if it is a problem worth building a solution to solve.
My schedule is flexible and can speak when it’s convenient for you.
All the best,
How am I documenting this?
I’m keeping it in Excel.
Did I learn anything?
Well, hmm. I sent out 24 messages. I got seven responses of some kind (26%). Ok – response rate not bad I suppose. Of those responses I have:
1 conversation with someone at a startup who doesn’t personally have the problem – but says it sounds like its a problem.
1 conversation with someone at a starutp who doesn’t have the problem at their startup, but has it as a web developer – and gave me good ideas on who does have this problem
1 person I’m still scheduling a call with
1 person who says they have the problem but wants to answer by email
3 who said by email they either had a mild problem, they solved it – or don’t have the problem.
Learned thing #1: 25% of startup folks contacted as part of the onStartups LinkedIn Group will reply in some way. But was this about my riskiest assumption? No.
Do 25% of startup founders have frustrations around the process of sharing website access with Virtual assistant or consultants?
So far no, I have not found support for this. But have I done enough work? I don’t know.
Methodology problems: Well, first off – I’m only asking for conversations with people who have this problem. So right there, I’m not learning much about why the other people don’t have this problem. That’s learning that’s left on the table to a degree. How could I fix this? Well, I could just ask for conversations to generally understand how they go about sharing website access with folks in their startup. Maybe its VAs. Maybe its interns. Or maybe its outside designers.
Next Steps: So, I believe I need to continue to have problem interviews with different types of folks to hopefully discover some group that has this problem, knows they have the problem, has been trying to fix it on their own and has a budget. Another group that I am reaching out to in parallel is coaches, trainers and speakers. I know they use virtual assistants – and I’m fishing to see if they show any strong signals of having this problem. LinkedIn seems helpful in being able to reach out to folks who I would otherwise not have a connection to – but I’m not convinced yet its leading to tons of learning. Lets take another look next week.
Bottom Line: Learning Velocity: 0
I’m making up something called Learning Velocity to measure how much I’m learning each week. Lets call it “# of things learned about riskiest assumptions” / weeks spent on learning.
So for this last week:
# of things learned: 0 – I didn’t have enough conversations, enough rejections by email – to make this call. Lets do this for another week and see what happens.
I’d love to hear any thoughts or advice on how I’m going about this, etc. Don’t hold back!