The “Ugly Baby” Rule and Bad Customer Discovery:

Perils of the Pivot Pirouette

There’s an ironclad rule in Customer Discovery I call the “ugliest baby” rule. Bring the ugliest baby on earth to Christmas dinner, and everyone will find something wonderful to say about that baby–its nose, its ears, or “cutest beard I’ve ever seen on a toddler.”  This is exactly why entrepreneurs should never conduct customer discovery with friends or family.  It also results in the “pivot pirouette” which we’ll get to in a minute.

Never ever ever conduct discovery with friends, family, coworkers, or others known to you. Not because they’re not smart or insightful, but because they know exactly what you want to hear–postive, encouraging feedback.  “Hey Fred, let me show you the new app I’ve been working on around the clock for three months,” doesn’t honestly invite anything other than encouragement.

Do always use friends to introduce you to friendsof theirs wiling to give you 20 minutes for feedback. Those friends have no obligation to you, will react far more like typical potential customers, and are far more likely to be honest, straightforward, and–good news–less respectful of your enthusiasm.  This is particularly important in b-to-b, where appointments with willing victims are tough to get.

What’s so important about objective feedback anyway?

Well, er, the answer should be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but it’s often not.  Without hard, challenging feedback, not much changes in your value proposition or often in other key business model components…the startup meanders forward, making minor changes based on gentle, gratuitous feedback about value prop, channel, or revenue model and high-fiving all the brilliant pivots…without noticing the overall lack of rampant, high-energy enthusiasm.  dramatically changing anything at all.

These insignificant mini-pivots are more like pirouettes…your idea spins and spins without dramatically changing anything at all.  When the music stops, it’s just the same as it was when you started. The optimum road to success: push harder for more honest, brutal feedback when warranted, and think harder about how to make more dramatic changes in the central business model.

Entrepreneurs trying, or even pushed, to use the customer development process are, way too often, in a hurry to “get through it,” and get on with the selling, so to speak. It’s what many entrepreneurs prefer to do, since it brings more bragging rights when asked “what did you do today” and the answer can be “made seven sales calls, got the door slammed in my face twice, and got an order.”

Next: when it’s time for a hand grenade instead of a pivot


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