The Lean LaunchPad at Stanford—Class 4: Customer Hypotheses


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customer feedback seems to be saying that this product is a “nice to have” versus “got to have.” Is the lack of excitement the MVP? Users? Is this a hobby or a business?

Agora Cloud Services

The Agora team started the week wondering whether they were 1) a true marketplace for cloud computing, where they provide both matching and exchange capabilities for real-time trading. Or were they 2) an information exchange, providing matching services for cloud computing buyers and sellers, providing matching services.

They began with a set of questions:

  • What are our new hypothesized value propositions?
  • Which segments have we identified and which do we want to narrow in on?
  • Which value added services do public clouds want to attract customers for?
  • Is there a certain segment of buyers that continually makes purchasing decisions (as opposed to only once at the very beginning of a company).
  • How can we attract buyers to our channel before they make purchasing decisions?
  • Longer-term work/planning: what other experiments should we be constructing
  • Sales process: buyer/ user/ influencer etc.? Demand generation?

The Agora team decided to formalize the customer discovery process by coming up with a set of Customer Discovery principles and questions that were as good as any I’ve seen.

They had 16 interviews with target customers (Zynga, Yahoo, VMware, Walmart, Zeconder, etc.) as well as channel partners and cloud industry technology consultants.

Agora was in a classic two-sided market (having both buyers and sellers. The Business Model Canvas is a great way to diagram it out. Each side of a market has it’s own Value Proposition, Customer Segment and Revenue Model.) They learned that one their core customer hypothesis about their buyers, “startups would want to buy computing capacity on a “spot market” was wrong. Startups were actually happy with Amazon Web Services. The Agora team was beginning to believe that perhaps their ideal buyers are the companies that have to handle variable and unpredictable workloads.

If you can’t see the slides above, click here.

The Agora team left the week thinking that it was time for a Pivot: find cloud buyers and sellers who need to better predict demand. Perhaps in market segment: medium-large companies that do 3D modeling and life sciences simulations

The feedback from the teaching team “great Pivot” and very clear Lessons Learned presentation. Keep at it.

(For the teaching team one of the most important ways to track the teams progress was through the weekly blogs we made each team keep. This of this as their on-line diary. They hated doing it, but for us it added a window into their thinking process, allowed us to monitor how much work they were doing, and more importantly let us course correct when needed.

BTW, If I was on the board of a startup with a first time CEO I might even consider asking for this in the first year as they went through Customer Discovery. Yes it takes time, but I bet it’s less than time than you would spend having coffee with an advisor each week.) … Next Page »

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Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at Follow @sgblank

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