Field Research Tips That Will Increase Startup Sales

Zachary and Mommy in the fieldField Research Tips That Will Increase Startup Sales

My son and I love to attend Startup Weekends. We are almost always assigned the task of ‘Customer Discovery and Validation.’ Zachary loves it because it gets him out and about talking to “business people about business”. I love it, because in addition to getting to spend a special day with the best kid ever, after a weekend doing market research in the field we are armed with business model insights beyond any other method of learning.
The big question we set out to answer is, “How will this idea make money?” Something magical always happens though, when we are out there trying to answer the question of how to make money, we start to understand everything about the product’s marketing mix:
• How much the product should cost?
• Where people would expect to buy this product?
• Is this the right product or would another product sell better?
• Who is the target for this product and how do we reach them?

Legendary entrepreneur Steve Blank teaches a graduate course on entrepreneurship at Stanford University. In this course, would be product developers have to meet on average 10 people a week (for 8 weeks) to test their ideas about their products and intended business model BEFORE they spend a lot of money on waterfall creation of a product that no one wants to buy. Test the market…then build the product. Zachary and I are that team during Start Up! It is simple, but the results are massive in what can be learned when you get outside.

Two Weekends- Two Different Approaches…

The first Startup Weekend we went to, we landed on a team of a software developer that had an idea for a Brainstorming Tool that integrated Brainstorming, Categorization, with Refining a finished product. We all suspected that college students would probably like to buy this product. Zachary and I went to some local college campuses to test the hypothesis. There was a weekend graduate course being held at one of the campuses, during a break we approached the instructor and explained our project. The professor granted us a 15 minute window with her 40 students to conduct a focus group! We asked a series of prompting questions to test if the group would use a product like this, if so how much would they pay, where they would buy this product, and in what form (desktop software, cloud interface, mobile application…) In fifteen minutes we had the beginning of a business model not of our own creation, but with customer input in the design! We then went to another University campus and interviewed people/groups one on one with open ended questions to test if unaided, they would give similar answers that our focus group did. The results were clear, right distribution, right product, with some additional work to be done in refining the price…and of course everyone had great ideas of how we could promote this product!

The most recent Start Up Weekend we went to, we were charged with something more like Business Model discovery. The product developer had yet to determine is this a fun product or a utility product? Is this licensing opportunity that existing brands could use as a brand extension? There was a lot of gray and that is OK! That is what customer discovery is all about! We 1st hypothesized where we would expect to find a product like this and started there. We asked the store manager lots of questions about if any like products existed and were already sold there, how much the like products cost, and were there any unexpected constraints we needed to know about. Turns out this was a very seasonal product and only carried on the shelf for 5 months. We then asked the store manager- “Where else do people buy these products?” He directed us to a big box store and the drive there was well worth our time. There we discovered a wealth of information:
• Insights on how products like this tend to sell
• What category the Big Box stores would put this product under and what department they would carry it in
• We learned about a local vendor program of how local entrepreneurs can get their products put on the shelves of Big Box stores of their region
• We also discovered a lot about how categorization of this product by the store drives what department it is carried, what the product’s price ceiling is, and how many months of the year it is carried on the shelf

All this product insight from a half of day of work. There is no way we would have learned this much about our emerging business model staying at the office, talking among each other and eating pizza. You got to get out of the building. The great news is this research is accessible to anyone willing to get out there. So next time you are wondering, ‘Where are we going to get more customers?’ It is a signal to get out and find out what the market needs you to know…or you could always hire Zachary and me!

Shawna Beese-Bjurstrom, RN, MBA lives in Spokane, WA with her family where she is an Executive/Business Coach. She writes on issues such as healthcare strategy, operational excellence, communication, and leadership, read her blog.

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