2.6 Need Discovery

Congratulations! You’ve reached a crucial milestone. In the last Unit you did the deceptively hard work of examining your internal motives, and now you’ve begun practicing the vital skill of turning those motives into ideas that can solve real problems.

In the immortal words of Steve Blank, it’s time to “get out of the building”! (You’ll learn more about this quote later in the course). What’s important right now is that you get ready to take a massive step towards achieving your vision. It’s time to start talking to potential customers.

Up until now, you’ve explored your own ambitions and looked at the world primarily through your eyes. Now, you’re going to practice something all entrepreneurs must practice: seeing the world through their customer’s eyes.

This is the point where an interesting paradox shows up in the startup creation process. On one hand, you must look within and commit to working only on a solution which serves your mission. On the other hand, you must ensure that the solution you’ve committed to work on is actually in need by your Tribe.

If you don’t believe in your solution, you won’t have what it takes to go the distance. If no one wants your solution, you don’t have a business. As an entrepreneur, this presents one of your greatest challenges. Your success will be determined by your ability to satisfy both sides of the coin.

So, what’s the best way to proceed? To identify the overlap between a solution you believe in, and a solution that your Tribe wants.

To find out if your Primary Ideas are solutions your Tribe actually wants, you’re going to engage in a process called “Need Discovery”. This simply means that before you invest any resources into actually creating a solution, you’re going to find out if the problem is as big as you think it is.

Performing effective Need Discovery (in other words, identifying a solution your Tribe actually needs) takes practice. The best place to start is with customer development expert Rob Fitzpatrick (remember this term “customer development”, you’re going to get very well acquainted in phase 2). Fitzpatrick is the founder of Founder Centric and has a lot of smart things to say about how to talk to your Tribe when everyone is lying to you:

From this, we can deduct two vital concepts about Need Discovery:

  1. Some data is more useful than others. Compliments are bad data.
  2. If you want to know if people need your solution, don’t talk about your solution. Instead, ask them about their problems and how they currently solve them.

Now let’s get a better understanding of Fitzpatrick’s core technique for performing Need Discovery conversations, the “Mom Test”:

(Note: the activities for this section will require you to perform the exact process Fitzpatrick talks about below, on real people. Do not skim through these resources. Take notes and make sure you understand what you’re learning, so that you can apply them correctly.)

Mom Test.pdf

So in the discovery process, you want to know what your Tribe’s problems are, and how they already go about solving them. Another helpful way to think about this is what are your Tribes “jobs to be done”. Read this article to understand this crucial concept:


Figuring out your Tribe’s needs and problems is really hard because, well, they don’t necessarily know what they want (even though they may think they do). As you learned from Fitzpatrick in Mom Test, people will feed you false positives all the time because they’re too nice. Most of the time they don’t even realise they’re doing it.

Before heading to the Need Discovery activity, go through this recap of the top tips for discovering your Tribe’s problems:

1) Ask about past behaviours. Do not ask for opinions or the future.
Talk is cheap. In fact, it's free. To find out what people's problems really are, ask about their past decisions they've taken, and actions they've done. For example, instead of asking, "what do you think of online supermarket delivery services?", you should ask, "how do you usually order your food from the shops?".
If many people were to answer the latter question with, "I usually don't bother; I always get my food in person from local supermarkets because I like to feel what I'm buying", then maybe there isn't actually a need for your supermarket-delivery app amongst your chosen Tribe.

2) Don't mention your idea, ever. Dig into the details of their life instead.
Imagine the parents of a newborn come up to you, full of wonder and enthusiasm in their eyes, and show you a photo of their baby. "Doesn't he look beautiful" they ask, while beaming at you. Chances are, you and almost everyone else will say "yes, lovely"... even if to you the baby looks identical to every other baby.

It's the same with ideas. If you say, "I've got this idea for an app that uses drones to deliver supermarket shops to your door faster and cheaper", then they'll almost certainly give you a positive, even if it's a 'false-positive'. They probably won't have the courage to say, "OK. But I always shop at supermarkets in-person because I love the physical shopping experience itself for my foods, so I wouldn’t find that useful". Instead, dig into their lives. Ask, "why do you not order food off Amazon despite ordering other goods from there weekly?". That's a great user-research question.

If they say something like, "because they don't deliver local produce. A year ago, my local farmer's market offers online delivery and I signed up, but their service was unreliable so I stopped". BOOM. You've just discovered that this person may be willing to pay for online food-delivery, and that the lack of local produce plus reliable service seems to be what is stopping him. Maybe you can start your app by focusing on local-produce markets online delivery instead of supermarkets?

3) Avoid 'leading questions', ask 'open questions'.
You want to ask open-ended questions so as to not project the problem your idea addresses onto them. Otherwise they might say they have that problem, when if they'd been asked more open questions it may never have been mentioned. This is a sure sign that the problem isn’t very important to them, and this is exactly what you need to find out.
Instead of asking, "how do you order your supermarket food online?", start off with open questions like, “the last time you needed to get lots of food, what did you do?". From there, you can begin to uncover how they currently solve their problems.
Avoid Yes/No questions at all cost. It’s Need Discovery, not customer interrogation.

4) Focus on pain points.
When you detect a problem causing people enough pain that they are attempting to solve it themselves or are paying money to try solve, stop and find out more. Ask why, when, how they found the existing solutions for that frustration. Remember that you’re not looking for things that currently make them happy, you’re looking for problems they are desperate to solve. You’re an entrepreneur, your job is to solve problems.

5) Ask for real commitments at the end of each conversation.
If someone shows even slight interest, ending without a commitment is a wasted opportunity. At the end of the conversation, ask them to invest a certain resource (time, money or reputation). If someone says they’re interested in your solution, reply with, “That’s great. The first test will be ready in 3 weeks and will be limited to 10 people, would you like to pay €/£/$30 to reserve yours now?”.
Now you’re asking for a real commitment! If they pay you before you’ve even created the solution, you know you’re onto something.

2.6 needs discovery.pdf