I was just recommended this excellent book called The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Blank. It describes a particular problem I've encountered with some of the startups I've met with.
Some of the entrepreneurs I've met with lead with the business opportunity. They say that the market is this big. They have charts and research to back that up. They show millions upon millions, if not billions of dollars spent in this market alone.
Then they present this product that fits into this market. They go on to say that we can attack this market opportunity by building a product to gather all these eyeballs, users, consumers, whatever and then sell this market to advertisers and marketers.
It always worries me when they lead with business opportunity.
Most likely what I discover after is:
1. The entrepreneur is not a model customer of this market. They have come upon this opportunity through research.
2. The entrepreneur has researched business opportunity but has not researched what customers want. While it may be true that marketers spend millions and billions of dollars trying to reach these consumers, the entrepreneur has not asked consumers whether they want the product he is building.
3. I often get a defensive response when I tell them this is an issue.
Which brings me back to The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Author, Steve Blank describes the Customer Development Model, which is an iterative method of figuring out what customers actually want, versus driving a business with financial projections and product development and assumptions that the product will be accepted by consumers. He argues that every successful startup runs by this model, and that running it by traditional product development models brings a huge amount of risk into whether the business will be successful or not.
Reading about the Customer Development Model brought me back to those meetings with entrepreneurs who are trying to build companies using traditional methods. Those meetings left me feeling uncomfortable and ultimately, following my instinct on these matters, I would often let the opportunity go. I am glad to be reading this book, because now it frames my uncomfortable feelings into a way of articulating them better.
As an angel investor, I want to reduce risk whenever possible. I find that when entrepreneurs resonate with the market and are building a product that they are target markets for, then it minimizes risk. This also means that you get extra passion for the product because the entrepreneur wants the product for himself, and you may reduce the need for external research to figure out what customers want, which reduces cost and time which could be used in building the product.
That's not to say that someone couldn't be successful if they don't fully or completely resonate with the product and are the target market. Success is a probability game and when entrepreneurs are themselves the target market and they resonate with the customers, then you stack the odds in your favor by a great deal.