Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Well, they 'should' be our customers

By Steve Blank

When scientists and engineers who’ve been working in the lab for years try to commercialize their technology, they often get trapped by their own beliefs  - including who the customers are, what features are important, pricing etc.

One the key tenets of the Lean LaunchPad class is that every week each team gets out of the building and talks to 10+ customers/partners to validate a new part of their business model.  Back in class they present their findings to their peers and teaching team in a 10-minute Lessons Learned presentation. One of the benefits of the class is that the teams get immediate unvarnished feedback on their strategy.

I hear nothing

For researchers and clinicians who’ve been working on a project in the lab for years, getting out of the building and talking to customers at times creates cognitive dissonance.  While they’ve been in the lab they had a target customer in mind. However when they leave the building and start talking to these  supposed customers there’s almost always a surprise when the customer is not interested in the product.

Often when they consistently hear that their expected customers aren’t interested the first reaction is “the customers just don’t get it yet.”  Rather than testing a new customer segment they keep on calling on the same group – somehow thinking that “we just need to explain it better.”

Sometimes it takes a nudge from the teaching team to suggest that perhaps looking at another customer segment might be in order.

They Should Be Our Customers

The Mira Medicine Team is trying to accelerate the path to the right treatment for each patient in complex Central Nervous System diseases. They spent years building their first tool MS Bioscreen, which was developed for the physicians at the UCSF Dept of Neurology. So they naturally believed that their first customers would be neurologists. This was a very smart team who ran into the same problem almost every smart researcher attempting to commercialize science faces.

Here’s what happened.

To see the video, click here.

Listen for:

0:35 “Our primary customer we built this app for was neurologists…

1:00 “(but neurologists have told us) your prototype is interesting… and probably some features are nice to haves…

2:26 “What’s special about neurology?  Doesn’t cardiology and oncology have problems like this?

3:00 “Is neurology a key component of what you’re trying to do?

3:15 “I’ve worked on this for two years…”

3:24 “You’ve already done too much prototyping work. You’re hung up on the prototype.”

3:29 “You have a square peg you’er trying to jam in a round hole…”

3:43 “Don’t be afraid to think laterally”

Postscript: 70 customers later they no longer talking to neurologists.

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t get trapped by your own beliefs
  • When reality outside the building doesn’t match your hypotheses – test alternate hypotheses
  • Most of the time your vision is just a hallucination