Three Tips That Will Improve Your Startup’s Success

You’ve told us clearly that you want more in-depth how-to sessions at The Lean Startup Conference. So this year, we’ve packed in more talks and workshops with detailed advice than ever before; check our program page for details on our initial batch of talks. Take advantage of these sessions by registering today for the best price possible; our fall sale ends on Friday,  October 31, and it’s the last price break of the year.

To give you a taste of our how-to sessions, we asked three of our conference speakers for tips you can put into practice right now–whether you work at a startup or in an established organization.

1. How Best to Engage Customers Remotely

You understand the importance of engaging directly with your customers as you develop products for them, but what happens when your user base is very far away? “There are a ton of tools out there that allow you to communicate with someone remotely, and when choosing a tool there are a lot of things you need to keep in mind,” says user experience consultant Holly DeWolf, whose conference session will teach practical, cost-effective techniques for remote engagement. “Do you need to see your customer’s computer screen? Do you need to record the session to share it with your team? Is it user-friendly for you and your customer?”

When connecting with distant users, DeWolf recommends determining which tool is least invasive for your customer base. “The big thing for me is the usability of the tool itself for customers,” DeWolf says. “I try hard not to make a customer download a tool they don’t already have. Tools like Skype or Google Hangout are popular now, but not everyone has them downloaded already. [If they don’t have them], I prefer tools like or GoToMeeting that make it easier for a customer to just click on a link and get on quickly [without having to download anything].”

DeWolf also recommends that you practice using a tool in advance to work out any kinks. She explains: “Ask a  coworker, a friend or even your grandma to get on so you can practice once or twice before getting on with a customer. Where are you going to keep a list of the questions you’re going to ask? Where are you going to take notes? Are you recording the session? Do you need a note to remind you to do that? There is going to be a lot going on, so as you start adding in little things, it makes it really worthwhile to have practiced beforehand.” In conducting our own customer interviews, we’ve found practice to be critically important for success–but easy to forget. Schedule it on your calendar to make sure it happens.

2. How to Interpret Customer Feedback

When you hold interviews with potential customers for your new product, it’s tempting to hear anything they say that isn’t overtly negative as a sign of enthusiasm. But be very careful in reading their tone. “If you’re talking to people, and they’re very polite and mild-mannered the whole time, that’s a sign that you’re not really solving a big problem,” said Cindy Alvarez, author of Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy and head of product design and user research for Yammer (a Microsoft company). In her session at the conference in December, Alvarez will lead entrepreneurs through live problem-solving to help you with the challenges of customer development and qualitative feedback.

“I’ve never seen an interview case where people who were enthusiastic customers did not express some sort of frustration or excitement,” Alvarez said. “If you don’t hear the variation, if you’re not putting exclamation points in your notes anywhere, then you’ve got a bunch of polite people who probably won’t buy your product. I’d say if you talk to five people and none of them seem particularly enthused, then try talking to a different type of five people.”

For loads of excellent, detailed advice on customer interviews, check out our in-depth Q&A with Alvarez, in which she helps a startup figure out why it can’t find potential customers to talk to.

3. How to Test the Right Aspect of Your Business

It’s deceptively easy to test the wrong aspect of your business or run the wrong test for what you need to learn, wasting time and money while you head down the wrong path. “Entrepreneurs always think they have the best idea. They do need that confidence to execute it and make it happen. But you have to balance that confidence with an awareness and open-mindedness that you could be wrong and don’t know until you test that idea with potential customers,”  says Grace Ng, co-founder at QuickMVP.  At the conference, she’ll lead a session, “Tactics for Truly Effective Experiment Design,” which includes a decision-making framework that guides teams to choose the right kind of experiment to run based on what you need to test.

When you create an experiment, Ng notes that constructing an accurate hypothesis to test should include clearly stating the problem you’re solving and who you’re solving it for. “A hypothesis statement is the building block of an effective experiment,” Ng says. “An accurate hypothesis will state, ‘I believe this solution of X will solve this problem of Y, and in order for this to be true, I need to see these results of Z happen’” If your hypothesis doesn’t prove true, you learn a lot and can adjust accordingly; if you run a test with no hypothesis (“let’s just see what happens”), it’s much harder to figure out what step to take after.

For a whole lot more relevant how-to advice, we’ve collected some of our favorite talks below from previous Lean Startup Conferences. And for more in-depth discussions on building your new products and services, join us at this year’s Lean Startup Conference. Register today. Our our fall sale ends Friday, October 31, and it’s the last price break of the year!

— Some of our favorite how-to talks from Lean Startup Conferences past —

On testing & customer feedback

On Lean UX

On building Lean Startup teams

On Lean Startup product strategy

On Lean Impact


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