Vermont Down and Customer Discovery: a necessary journey

My journey toward customer discovery needs to start today. But how? Lately, I’ve been reading Steve Blank’s book The Four Steps to the Epiphany. As most folks know, Blank is the thought leader behind the whole lean startup craze. It’s very complimentary to agile development models that are iterative, nimble, and really focuses on being responsive which has added to the method’s popularity. Also lately, probably due to this reading, I’ve been pondering several business ideas – some of which I’ve shared publicly. One such idea is Vermont Down (VD). The catalyst for VD was an article in the Burlington Free Press about Milkweed production here in VT, then, coincidentally, a group in Vernon, VT started to explore the viability and legitimacy of the crop. During that discussion, Vermont Down popped into my head. I liked the sound of it. I liked the idea of an ethically produced filler leveraging the VT brand. I quickly registered the trade name. 

Since, I’ve done some research and have come to appreciate some real challenges of using milkweed as the primary filler for products. However, I still like the idea of an ethical fill material, and yes I know this is nothing new; and, moreover, think there’s some potential regardless of the use of milk weed or not. Recently though, I’ve realized that I need to take Blank’s recommendations to heart. I need to put theory into practice and start talking to more people about the idea – I need to go on a journey of customer discovery, (did you think was was about to write – self discovery?).

Blank proposes four simple questions that can serve as the springboard to start the process.

  • Have I identified a problem a customer wants solved?
  • Does my product solve these customer needs?
  • If so, do I have a viable and profitable business model?
  • Have I learned enough to go out and sell? (Blank, Steve. The Four Steps to the Epiphany (p. 43). K&S Ranch. Kindle Edition.)

How should I do this though? Who can I talk to? My recommendation is probably obvious, but start with family and friends. Then, ask them for some recommendations. You never know where a conversation might lead. Push yourself to be bold next; ask a co-worker. Then, be bolder yet and ask a stranger. Yep, someone who is perhaps behind you as you wait to order coffee. (It’s easier to start a conversation with someone behind rather than in front of you because they’re captive – they need that caffeine as much as you do and they will entertain a few questions. And, if you’re feeling generous, pay it backward and buy their coffee, or whatever). Even further still, start attending 802 Cups as part of INSTIG8 to help refine your pitch! Learn about upcoming events on INSTIG8’s Facebook page.

A mentor used to tell me to just start writing things down because magical things happen once it’s in a document. And this wasn’t about creative writing either – just getting your idea or proposal in a document means that you can then start to refine it and share it. Before that’s done, You’ve only just got thoughts rumbling around in your head; what’s the point? Start sharing, start observing reactions, and start refining. Gumption-up and begin a journey of customer discovery. You won’t be sorry!