Lean Customer Interview Tips for the Introverted Developer

After attending a local Lean Startup Circle meetup, I decided to write about some of my experiences with the Lean Startup Methodology from a software developer’s point of view.

Why should you care about the Lean Startup Methodology?

As software developer, I put my passion, honed expertise, and time into crafting a digital product or service. One of the worst things that can happen is that when it is released, no one uses it or wants it. You can build a absolutely beautiful software product that scales to the nines. But if you build the wrong thing, it is a failure.

The Lean Startup Methodology is basically a scientific approach to developing business and products. You analyze your assumptions and then devise experiments to test your hypotheses. One of the ways that you can test them, is by talking to people and doing customer interviews.

Talking to Random People is Terrifying

The prospect of talking to random people on the street is a terrifying prospect for me as a semi-introverted software developer. It is also incredibly useful to get out of the office and actually get feedback. These tips come from a Lean Startup Weekend in Columbus at the Neo office, where I successfully got out of my comfort zone and engaged in customer interviews.

Background: Our team was designing experiments around creating an app for Food Trucks. The fundamental assumption that we wanted to validate was – “People will pay money for a phone app that will tell them where all the Food Trucks are.” So we headed downtown to the local food market. This was a place where there were local artisan food vendors in a food hall. It seemed like an ideal place to find people interested in good food and Food Trucks.

Tip #1 – You will suck at first, but it gets better

The first few people I tried to talk were complete failures. I felt like a complete idiot. Do not get discouraged. It helps if you go with someone else for moral support, although you should interview people by yourself, so they don’t feel intimidated.

Tip #2 – Have your questions written down

Come prepared with the questions that you want to ask people, so you don’t have a brain freeze with nervousness. However, I found I got people to talk to me more if I didn’t carry the pad of paper with me. Basically anything you can do to look less like a marketer helps.

Tip #3 – Tell them what you are trying to build first

DO NOT START OUT LIKE THIS: “Can I ask you a few questions?” This never worked. Again, this is what a marketer would say. I got my best responses by telling people that I was a software developer looking to build a app for Food Trucks. In most cases, they were happy to give advice on whether they would use the app and how much they would pay for it.

Tip #4 – Write down your results right away

Memory is a fleeting thing. Try to record the results of your conversation right away. Take the notepad from your pocket and go to a corner or table and note everything down, before you forgot it all. Also try to write down what the person said, not just your interpretation. If someone is helping you interview, you can have one person be a scribe, while one person talks.

Tip #5 – Give Gifts

If you have any funding available for this endeavor, you can get a stack of Amazon $10 gift cards for people’s time. This was some advice given to us. I didn’t actually try it for this particular outing, but I have heard that others have used it very successfully.

Getting out of your Comfort Zone is Scary but Rewarding

I certainly got out of my comfort zone as a developer that weekend. But the end result was worth it. We ended up disproving our hypothesis the people would pay for our app. Almost all the people we interviewed said that they would download the app, but no one was willing to pay for it. We invalidated a core assumption, it was a success.

We could move on to testing and validating another idea that could be a viable business product.

Build things that matter. Build well. Build the right things.

Thanks to Scott Burwinkel for helping review this post for me – you rock

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