Start Discovery With the “Give a Crap” Question

99% of the entrepreneurs I’ve met skip this step. But when it’s done conscientiously, giving your customers the “give a crap” test can save months of work and piles of dollars for a misdirected startup.

Two guys created a software tool to help HR people keep track of employee leaves of absence–sick, vacation, maternity, all that kind of stuff. The co-founders were excited about their technology, loved their colorful demo, and raced to show it to HR people in their target customer segment.

But they raced to cut the code, design the UI, and build the back end all before asking the vital “give a crap” question. Had they asked, they might have discovered that, while it isn’t perfect, good ol’ Microsoft Excel does a pretty good, or at least an adequate, job of monitoring this sort of information, and–worse–that tracking employees’ days off was somewhere about #25 on the typical HR exec’s “top 5” worry list. Oops.

The Startup Owner’s Manual strongly advocates two distinct, separate “get out of the building” steps in the customer discovery process. The first, of course, is to be sure that customers give a crap about the product or service you’re about to spend 20,000 hours of your life building, marketing, and trying to turn into a business (more on the second outing, product discovery, another time).

So the first trips out of the building should NOT talk product at all. Instead:

  • Find out how severe a problem you’re solving for your customers
  • Learn whether they have the problem once a week or once a year
  • And unearth “what happens” if the problem remains unsolved

The best companies are born when they solve a screaming, urgent, costly problem that happens once a week or once a day–and one that could cost your customer his or her house, spouse, money, or job!

Bob Dorf speaks with, coaches and trains startups in lean customer development all over the world. He blogs at and tweets @bobdorf.


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