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Last week, the Customer Development: The Second Decade seminar was held as part of FutureM week. More information about the seminar and links are below, including the video of the full seminar.

Though I’ve tracked and practiced Customer Development and its precursors for some time, a few things struck me about the seminar.

During his keynote address, Bob Dorf commented that Customer Development has
been “far more popular on the left coast than on the right coast”, though he did say that it did take a while to initially gain traction on the left coast.

In the past couple of years in the Boston community, Customer Development concepts are appearing more regularly. If you frequent the Customer Development friendly events, such as this one, you might think that the concepts are well entrenched. However, there has been considerable top-down resistance to the concepts. When attempting to engage in Customer Development and to build the Minimum Viable Product, the counter response can be very severe, forcing bloated product feature lists, long development times, feature creep, and continual schedule mishaps. Agile Development is a partner to Customer Development, and has seen corresponding resistance.

“[Customer Development] isn’t magic. It isn’t easy. It is brutally hard to do a genuine Customer Development effort in a startup, and if you don’t have the full cooperation of your entire team, your board, and your investors, it is downright impossible.”

How many companies were forced into failure because they pursued old style sales strategies at the exclusion of Customer Development and old style development methodologies at the exclusion of Agile Development?

How many entrepreneurs at those companies wanted to pursue Customer Development and Agile Development, but were prevented from really doing so by old style overseers?


The seminar started with brief introductions by Sim Simeonov, moderator, and Larry Bohn, General Catalyst Partners, sponsor.

Bob Dorf’s keynote address provides an overview of and historical context for customer development methodology, and previews the upcoming book coauthored with Steve Blank. Steve Blank, of course, got the whole approach toward Customer Development started with his Berkeley lectures c.2002 and his 2005 book The Four Steps to the Epiphany.

“Since [2003] Customer Development startups have surged, particularly on the left coast; a set of Customer Development rules has emerged; key customer development approaches have converged; product development cycle times have submerged, or shortened dramatically; and easy money has certainly been purged.”

After Dorf’s presentation, presenters from three Boston area companies described their experiences with the pivot:

Healy Jones, VP Marketing at OfficeDrop
Andy Moss, founder and CEO of ESMZone
Andy Greenawalt, founder and CEO Continuity.net

Then Eric Ries gave an extemporaneous presentation describing how he got involved with Steve Blank and how the concepts of Customer Development, Minimum Viable Product, and Lean Startup Methodology have emerged.

The seminar continued with a panel discussion and Q&A:

Bob Dorf, serial entrepreneur, startup advisor, supporting author
David Cancel, Founder, Performable
Eric Ries, Lean Startup Evangelist
Moderator: Sim Simeonov, FastIgnite

Thanks to Sim Simeonov for moderating and Larry Bohn, General Catalyst Partners, for sponsoring the seminar. And thanks to the speakers… Hopefully events like these will move the local community more toward modern development methods.

Video of Seminar:


Link to video.

References

Customer Development: The Second Decade. FutureM Event 2010.10.06.

Bob Dorf. Customer Development: The Second Decade. Slides 2010.10.06.

Steve Blank. 2005. The Four Steps to the Epiphany

Eric Ries. What is Customer Development. Blog 2008.11.08.

Eric Ries. Combining agile development with customer development. 2009.03.16

Sim Simeonov. 2010. Customer Development by the Numbers. Xconomy, 2010.10.07

FutureM – The Future of Marketing – a Boston marketing event. October 4-8 2010

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