Bringing empathy to the lean startup process

At different times over the last year or so I’ve been writing about combining design thinking with the lean startup and the importance of doing great customer development, and it has just come home to me that the underlying point of it all is to add customer empathy to the lean start up process. It is all too easy to have an intuition about a customer problem and then jump onto the build-measure-learn loop without ever having enough understanding about the emotions that drive your customers. Everything is then too scientific.

Steve Blank famously advised founders to get out of the room and meet customers. That’s great advice, but it’s not sufficient. It’s imperative to not only meet with customers, but to understand them and that requires more than just interviews and surveys, it requires ethnographic techniques.

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Full blown ethnographic studies are too slow and expensive for the startup world, but simple lightweight ethnographic techniques such as asking customers about how they experience the problem you are trying to solve and observing them using prototypes and later your product lead are still powerful. They will give you a much deeper understanding of your customer and better intuition about which features to build for the first version of the product and as you iterate. The goal is to be able to see the world as your customers see it rather than as you see it. If you have target multiple personas you will need a separate understanding for each one.

All this has come clearer for me after reading The service startup :: Design gets lean by Tenny Pinheiro which was passed to me by my Partner Dharmesh a couple of weeks ago. It’s not the most accessible of books but it has a wealth of practical tips for empathy and designing services.