How I used Andrew Warner’s Secret to Accelerate Customer Development

Summary:  As entrepreneurs we often have to build credibility in a new market where we have few relationships or expertise.  I used Andrew Warner’s interview techniques to quickly meet experts and accelerate my customer development by months.  

My Challenge: No Customers to Develop

In late 2011 I was on my 5th pivot with ClaimAway, my previous startup in the healthcare space. I had hit (yet another) roadblock and was faced with a pivot-or-persevere situation. After reflecting on my experience over the past year, I asked myself a simple question: “Who (i.e. customer segment) has responded most enthusiastically to my ideas?”

As I flipped through a year’s worth of customer interview notes the pattern became clear: Working moms of children with special needs. 1

Since insurance coverage for Autism treatment therapy is a growing issue in the health insurance space I decided to search there for a problem and solution. After attending a seminar on the subject I had a hypothesis for an MVP and started the Puzzle Ribbon project to explore it.

I quickly ran into a problem: I couldn’t find Customers to Develop. I needed to engage experts on all aspects of this space from families with children on the spectrum, treatment providers (ABA), advocates, nonprofits etc. Unfortunately I didn’t know anyone in the space and had no credibility.

My personal network didn’t get me very far. I tried blogging about the space but didn’t have enough expertise to write anything worth reading2 I went to a few conferences and didn’t meet the right people.

I needed to build credibility and relationships in a niche market very quickly to test my ideas. I decided to try and build a niche media property.

Andrew Warner’s Course: Interview Your Heroes Course

I stumbled upon Andrew Warner’s Interview Your Heroes course (now on Udemy) and decided to give it a shot. He taught me, step-by-step, exactly how to conduct video interviews like he does.  He answered my basic questions on how much time it took to interview, how to ask people to interview them, how to edit videos quickly, how to transcribe them, etc.

His approach is incredibly startup-friendly: low-cost, fast, lightweight, and focused.

From Nobody to Instant Credibility

With the help of my VA I quickly learned how to interview someone, process the video and get it up on the site in 2-3 hours of work. I started contacting Autism advocates, non-profits, therapists, and researchers and asked if I could interview them. After a few weeks I had about 15 videos and met some truly amazing people.

Autism advocate & incredible human being, Feda Almaliti of the Autism Health Insurance Project

Because I was doing the unsexy grunt work and giving deeply passionate people with expertise and opinions a voice my site traffic started to grow. Just as Andrew Warner draws credibility from the faces on his website, I drew credibility – deservedly so – from the hard work I was doing to make a contribution to the cause.

Moreover they would promote the videos to their friends, family, blogs, etc., further building my audience.

2 Birds, 1 Stone: Customer Development and Promotion

What was most amazing is that I did my customer development during the interviews. I asked people questions about the challenges in getting Autism treatments covered by insurance, how they overcame them, state laws, etc. And of course lots of other people had the same questions and were thrilled to see someone asking about them.

It didn’t take much more time than setting up 1-1 meetings and phone calls and I was able to share what I was learning with everyone.

In short order I was validating and invalidating my assumptions 3

Right Tool, Right Problem

I’d suggest this approach if you’re in a similar situation that I was in: needing to quickly build relationships and credibility in a niche space, particularly one with an enthusiastic audience.

Of the startups I’ve recently helped out, I could see it working for Truckee Lynch and Shlomo Freund. It would be a waste of time for Fred Jabbour or Stuart Kearney.

 

  1. This is a good moment to point out the value of FACE-TO-FACE qualitative interviews over statistical surveys. I only came to this realization because I could read their emotional response to me, my ideas. And I only got this response because I was making a genuine effort to understand their world view. Had this been a online survey I never would have seen this pattern.
  2. I couldn’t even write from personal experience. Not only do I not have children who have been diagnosed on the Autism spectrum, I don’t have any children at all!
  3. So…what happened with Puzzle Ribbon? As often in the case of startups, life. It happens to all of us. My family suddenly had a great opportunity to move to Beijing China and it came down to going on a new adventure with them or focusing on this project. Since all of my hypothesis were only relevant to the US market, I decided I could not possibly move the project forward from 13,000 miles (and a 13-hour time difference) away. Startup life sounds so neat and orderly when packaged in books and blogs. My life has been anything but. Perhaps I’ll be able to resume the project when we return to the US.
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