How well do you know your customer? (#3 in a series of how to go from startup to scaleup – 4 min read)

Here is what we have covered so far in previous posts:

  1. 5 steps to take BEFORE you launch a startup
  2. How to Nail the Pain

Now we will cover how many identify your target customer in preparation for the interview process. Both are very important to quickly determining whether you have identified a market that has the pain/need that you can solve.

Identify the Target Profile

The key to identifying the target profile for a startup is to realize that your first customers will be those who need your product and have either been searching for it or have tried to solve the problem in another way. You begin to identify these people by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the problem? The answer to this, at this point, will very likely be how you perceive the problem through personal experience or observation. If you have 3rd party confirmation even better.
  2. Who do I believe is experiencing the problem as I have described it?

The answer to this question may provide you with a fairly broad spectrum such as moms or engineers or professionals or athletes. One exercise you can use to narrow this down is called Opposing Traits Analysis. That is, look at a number or opposite traits and place your target customer somewhere on the spectrum. For example:

Here are some suggestions to help get you started but these should be traits that you come up with and believe are part of your target customer’s make-up.

Consumer Target

  • Cash versus time
  • Decision accepter versus decision maker
  • More control versus more convenient
  • Low-tech versus tech-savvy
  • Replaces frequently versus long-term purchaser
  • Values adventure versus values predictability
  • Enjoys highs and lows versus prefers consistency

Business Target:

  • Low-tech versus tech-savvy
  • Low autonomy versus high autonomy
  • Conservative corporate culture versus progressive corporate culture
  • Risk-averse versus risks are rewarded
  • Values stability versus values recoverability
  • Prefers turnkey solutions versus prefers best-of-breed pieces

You can augment this analysis with other qualification questions such as:

  • What is the likely job title and/or function of this individual?
  • What might be their biggest day to day concerns?
  • What drives them to succeed?
  • How might they describe themselves? (e.g., athlete, dad, boss, middle manager, engineer, banker, etc.)

Please remember that these are all assumptions that you are looking to disprove so the faster you can say something is true or false the faster you can hone in on your true customer so get as narrow as possible to start. I know that we all want to get to an answer quickly so we can start building or coding, etc. but the time you put in now will save you tremendous headache, heartache, money and time down the road. History bears this out. If you can put yourself in the mindset of the process being as or more enjoyable than the destination, the easier this will be.

Please note: we will tackle the interview process in the next post.

How to find your Target Customer

In most cases, you are looking to interview people that have the problem you have uncovered and are looking to solve it. They also lean towards new ideas, are flexible and patient as long as they feel you are in it with them. You will be surprised at the amount of folks willing to talk to you if you hit on something important to them. Conversely, if you cannot get 20 or so people to agree to talk to after much effort, that may be an indicator that the problem you are chasing is not very interesting to your identified constituency. You likely have to find a new constituency, tweak the solution or search for a new problem or some combination of these.

Here are some suggestions as to where to go first to try to find your target customer to interview:

  1. Ask your connections (family/friends/colleagues) to make introductions for you.

Here is a suggestion adapted from Lean Customer Development:

Dear ______,

I’m trying to learn more about how fashion retailers are embracing mobile apps for e-commerce. As a fashionista, I know you have a ton of connections with people in the fashion industry. Can you help me out by forwarding the message below to a few relevant folks?

For people who respond, I’ll be reaching out to set up a 20-minute phone call to ask about their current engineering process. It won’t be something that requires advance preparation; just hearing about their experiences would be a huge help for the project I’m working on. I’ve included a message below that you can forward:

Hi! My name is ________________. I am reaching out to learn more about how fashion retailers are embracing mobile apps to reach their customers. It would be incredibly helpful for me to hear about your experiences and ask you a few questions. It won’t take more than 20 minutes, and there’s no need to prepare in advance.

Can I schedule a call with you for sometime next week?

Thanks, [include your name and contact information]

 2. LinkedIn

I recommend that you focus on 2nd degree connections only. Since LinkedIn has a limit to the number of characters you can send here is another suggestion based upon my own experience:

Hi! My name is Bill Flynn.

After 3 decades in starting up and growing businesses as well as 8+ years as a business advisor, I am changing careers to help growth-oriented, open-minded business leaders of mid-market companies like yours transform their companies from good to exceptional.

This is accomplished by walking you and your leadership team through a proven, sustainable, straightforward framework and process to run the business. Tens of thousands of participating mid-market companies have grown significantly faster and more profitable within 6-24 months.

I am trying to learn more about what would drive these leaders to work with a 3rd party like me to assist them. Would you mind answering a 2-3 question survey? [URL]

Thanks – Bill

There are other places you can go as well such as:

  • Quora
  • Online communities
  • LinkedIn groups
  • Trade shows
  • Networking events
  • Chambers of commerce
  • Networking groups such as Provisors, Vistage and others

These are just a few ideas. I am sure you can identify a number of others as well that are specific to your target customer profile. If you put your mind to it and are creative, there is a broad array of options that you have to find people who are willing to talk with you.

I suggest you pick up the following books to get deeper knowledge of this process –Lean Customer Development and Nail it then Scale it. Much of this article was derived from these two great books on the subject.

Next time we will walk through the interview process so you are prepared when you get them on the phone or in person.

I look forward to your comments.

Be Exceptional!

To learn more about building your own One Page Strategic Plan visit or contact me at

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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