Dec 132012

This post is about Intuit’s apparently successful product development in India.  I’ve heard this story twice recently. The first time was listening to the Livestream of the Lean Startup Conference and the second time was reading a Lean Startup Group post in LinkedIn by Rammohan Reddy.  Here’s a link to the Lean Startup Conference video of all the speakers. Rammohan’s original post is here. This account of Customer Discovery and Customer Development provides some good detail on the starting point and the pivots in a fairly concise write-up. Two elements stood out to me and I’d like to reinforce them and one element that I think they “overlooked” and is important to highlight.

#1: Asked for facts before asking for opinion. This was “easy” for the Intuit folks because they had already decided their target market was farmers and readily recognized they did not know their problems.  It would have been tougher for a farming “expert” to do discovery.  Kudos to the Intuit team for first getting the facts of the farmers’ day, then addressing one particular problem, and finally going back to get the farmers’ opinions iteratively to maximize the value in their MVP.

#2: Implementing the solution manually. This is a fast, low-cost, easy-to-correct means to determine whether the pricing information they offered would actually be used.   The Intuit team initially responded to communication with a manual solution.  What a great way to understand the usage and the user interface. Here’s simpler example: One of my clients recently proposed a service that automatically culls the Web for particular information and packages it in a more useful form.  Instead of waiting until all the coding is completed (or better yet, started) dummy up that “more useful form” right now — without the automation — and see if people really do use (find value) in the information.

#3: Know Now.  Intuit believes this may be an advertising vehicle, that they could start selling advertising now, too. Well, they can turn that belief into fact by attempting to sell advertising now.  Think of how much more powerful it would be to read “We met with several advertisers who have been spending money for years trying to reach farmers who do not watch TV.”

I think the fidelity Intuit conveys that they used in the product development/solution solving portion of their start-up is in contrast to the progress on their selling side (the advertisement).  That’s not surprising to me.  You have to admit, it’s a whole lot easier and more fun to talk to farmers about their needs and your solution than it is to talk to potential advertisers about spending money.

So what I hear when from this story is that even for an enlightened team, testing the revenue side can get lost in the problem/solution iterative.  For this offering, presumably, creating revenue will be an important part of the business opportunity.  Go out and test who it is that wants to communicate to farmers and what value that communication (advertising) represents to them.

Call to Action:

#1:  Whether is the product specification, the target market, the pricing, whatever…talk to who you think are your target users and the target customers.  If you don’t know the problem/value exactly, can you shadow different players in the ecosystem?  If you have your hypotheses, then ask yourself, “What’s more important, right now, than learning whether a prospect who I THINK is in my target market actually even thinks about the PROBLEM I SOLVE and if he does, then how well does my solution solve that problem.”  My answer, of course, is that nothing is more important.

#2:  Careful not to get so wrapped up in the solution that you forget the full business equation.  Their users are the farmers, but their revenue customers are _____.  Who knows?  Intuit hasn’t looked into that yet. Perhaps this will be a free service, but that doesn’t sound sustainable. It’s important to investigate whether this is an advertising model, a subscription model, or a service supported by grants, etc. The point is, that investigation could happen in parallel with the test-delivery of the solution.


 Posted by at 17:26

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