Bootstrapping Discovery

You’re a product leader on the cusp of starting new development work, so you have an outline of your product strategy, and you have hypotheses about the users of your product. But you don’t have the first-person point of view because you haven’t talked to users yet. You want to have those conversations with users, but you hesitate, because you don’t want to...

  1. look like you don’t know what you’re doing
  2. tip your hand to your competitors
  3. get started down the wrong path by talking to the wrong people first

And there you’re stuck in a loop: you don’t want to talk to anybody because you’re not sure of ‘the answers’. But you don’t have the answer because you haven’t talked to anybody. As we've often said: You're ready to build when you're ready to learn.

At Lab Zero, we do a lot of Discovery work, where we learn as much as we can from users, very rapidly. And we’ve developed a few guidelines that, if you’re stuck, can help you bootstrap your Discovery process.

Unblock Discovery by Starting Conversations Right Away

Our best results come when our project kick-off includes introductions to real customers; real users; real prospects. 

Pick an easy target. If you’re in a new industry and don’t have a lot of domain knowledge, find a resource whose job it is to represent her industry. Somebody known for a balanced point of view. If you’re doing competitive research, sign up for a demo or a webinar of a competitor. It’s predictable that a vendor will be in a selling mode (highly biased), but they’re also really good at finding answers to objections that round out your own point of view better. If you’re researching demand for a new consumer service, find a friend whose needs are adjacent to the offering. Initial conversations give you the background and confidence to voice your hypotheses in subsequent interviews.

Lower the stakes. Don’t allow yourself to draw too many conclusions based on your first two or three discussions. If you hear something that’s easily verifiable, and that validates or invalidates a hypothesis of yours, then great. But don’t be swayed by one opinion on your first foray. Let objections wash over you. Let the universe of possibilities expand in the early stages of Discovery. Wait until you’ve developed some knowledge of roles, personas, ecosystems--and covered them with other interviews--before you start eliminating possibilities.

Think widely. Don’t be afraid to follow tangents where they lead. In early interviews, it’s best to try to draw out (as Donald Rumsfeld famously said) your unknown unknowns--those things you don’t know that you don’t know. If, at the end of an early interview, you have more questions than you started with, that’s a good sign.

Leverage the network. If you have a productive conversation with somebody who knows a lot, try to get that person to suggest other people for you to talk to. An introduction from somebody who has just spent an hour with you is worth a lot, because they’ll know which of your questions they couldn’t answer, and who might be able to help. Without even trying, they are helping to fill gaps you didn’t know you had.

Things to Avoid

Your initial reluctance to engage in conversation was based partly on feelings, and partly on actual bad things that can happen. With that in mind, here are a few things to avoid.

Unless you have a good reason, don’t dive into detail​​ in an interview  too quickly. Sure, you’ll get lots of detail from even the first person you talk to, but don’t become exhaustive about gathering and synthesizing it all in an early phase. It could be wasted time, and could prevent you from getting to an entirely different topic area that yields greater value.

Avoid the lion’s den. Your product or idea is in the vision stage. Don’t bring it to a competitor, unless you’re sure you have good camouflage or a firm commitment of partnership.

Don’t wear out your welcome by (for example) talking to the CEO of your largest target customer on Day One. You want to sharpen your game a bit before that conversation, so that you don’t waste a good opportunity to test a solid hypothesis with a real prospect. 

Whatever you do, don’t wait to get started. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be ready for the high-stakes interview with a primary customer, and the sooner you'll enter the high-frequency research-and-development feedback loop that you desire. Pick that easy target and pick up the phone.

Discovery with Lab Zero

Guided by principles like these, we make the most of the Lab Zero Discovery phase. That’s why Discovery is in each of our proposals–because we’re confident that Discovery adds value for our clients. Are you trying to unlock more value with your product development? Let’s talk.

Continue the conversation.

Lab Zero is a San Francisco-based product team helping startups and Fortune 100 companies build flexible, modern, and secure solutions.