Overcoming Customer Interviewing Anxiety

Why are Interviews so Hard?

For a lot of people, customer interviewing can be a nerve-wracking and anxious endeavor. I’ve found that there are a few common reasons as to why most of us experience this anxiety.

Feel IneptIn this post we’ll discuss those common reasons, why we experience them, and how you can overcome them.

1. You’re afraid of losing customers

It’s hard to actually get someone to agree to do an interview, so the last thing you want is to mess up your one-on-one conversation with them.

The fear of embarrassing ourselves in front of someone we hope eventually turns into a paying customer, makes all of us anxious.

2. Feels awkward asking these questions

It can feel really awkward trying to balance having a real conversation with someone while also trying to follow a script, and not break any of the interviewing rules.

 3. It feels like you’re inconveniencing your interviewees

You’re getting so much out of these interviews, it’s natural to feel as though your interviewees must be giving up something. It can feel like you’re taking up too much of their time asking weird questions, especially when there’s nothing tangible they’re going to walk away from the conversation with.

 4. The whole experience can make you feel inept

Your customers are using a bunch of language and jargon you don’t understand all while you’re fumbling with your next question. The whole thing can make you feel a little…clumsy.

Overcoming Your Anxiety

Luckily, there’s a relatively straight-forward way to overcome all of these anxieties. To do that, we’ll take a:

  1. Crawl
  2. Walk
  3. Run


The first step will be very simple step and as you feel more comfortable, you’ll get closer and closer to what to interviewing a real customer. By the time you’re done with this approach, you’ll replace that clumsy feeling, with one of confidence.

Before we get started: Take a look at the Ultimate Customer Interviewing Script that you can use when it’s time to interview your customers. It will give you an idea of what you’re going to ask your customers when the time comes to interview them.

Crawl: Partner Interviews

Crawl - Partner InterviewsAfter you look at that script it’s time to do the Crawl phase of developing your interviewing skills and increasing your comfort level.

1. Daily Interviews

Start doing “partner” interviews with someone close to you on a daily basis. Your “partner” could be your business partner, your life partner, your housing partner (e.g. roommate), etc. anyone you see on a daily basis.

2. Ask about challenges

Ask about all aspects of their day, but be sure to focus the bulk of your attention on the challenges your partner is experiencing on a daily basis. Ask what the hardest part of their day was.

  • Was there anything tough about work today?
  • Anything hard with the kids?
  • Difficulties at school?

Often times when people recap their day, something negative will come up. Practice asking for more information about that and…

3. Be curious

Dig deep into what is challenging them and see if you can elicit some emotions about those challenges. Imagine yourself in their position and relate how you would feel to the emotions that they’re experiencing.

When you feel the emotions your interviewee experiences, you're doing it right. Click To Tweet

Your goal here isn’t to offer a solution right there and then. Your goal is just to listen, hear their problems and hear the words they’re using to describe those problems.

When you’re genuinely listening, you’re not trying to fix their problems. And that’s the skill you want to build. Click To Tweet

Another technique is to focus on asking five questions in a row during this conversation before you answer any. Don’t get pre-occupied with counting the number of questions you ask, but this idea can help you set the intention to really focus the attention on your interviewee.

Remember now is not the time to offer solutions.

Once you’re comfortable with “partner” interviews, say after practicing it for a week or so on a daily basis, it’s time to take a walk.

Walk: Family & Friends
Walk - Family and Friends

During the walk phase, you’re going to expand the scope of people you interview to include your friends and family.

Through casual conversations that we normally think of as “small talk”, take the opportunity to ask the person you’re chatting with about the hardest part of their job, or the hardest part of their daily routine.

You can do that by asking something like:

  • [You] “What are you up to these days?”
  • [Friend] “Oh I’m looking for a new job.”
  • [You] “Oh, that sounds __[hard, fun, tiring, etc.]__. What would you say is the hardest part about that?”

This type of questioning will help you focus in on their challenges, and then once you’re talking about their challenges, get curious.

Once they describe their challenge, ask them what it feels like. To do that, say something like:

  • [You] “That feels like it would be _[emotion: frustrating, disappointing, etc.]__ to me.  Does it feel that way to you?”

This will help you make an emotional connection with your interviewee. Again, when you’re connecting at the emotional level, you’re starting to really understand the perspective of your customers.

Finally, you’ll want to ask what they’re doing to try and solve this challenge. Remember, this is not your opportunity to solve the problem, but to simply ask them what steps they’re taking. This is going to get you ready to start asking questions about your competitors.

Concentrate on asking five questions before being asked any.

Don’t worry about counting the questions: Just make an effort to ask more questions than you answer and listen more than you speak. Use this as an opportunity to restrain yourself.

You’re going to have solutions: But you really need to practice not offering them. If you really think you have something that could help them, great! Just don’t mention it during that conversation. Wait a couple hours or a couple days and then offer them the solution.

During this phase it will become second nature for you to ask about people’s challenges and become genuinely interested in them. In fact, you’ll notice that only will your “small talk” conversations become generally less awkward, you’ll find they’re more fun and rewarding for you, and the person you’re talking to.

This habit of being interested in other peoples’ problems you’re forming will eventually free you from to feel tied to a rigid customer interviewing script down the road. You’ll feel more comfortable interviewing customers because you’ll have found a genuine, low-stress way to have a conversation with them.

After you have a half-dozen of these conversations, you’ll have “walked” your way to higher quality interviewing skills. Now, it’s time to start running.

Run: Networking Events
Run - Networking Events

Here you’re going to really put what you’ve learned to use. Start by going to a local meetup or startup event, and begin asking the questions that are on the customer interview script.

These are largely the same questions you’re going to ask during your actual customer interviews, but with people who only feel like your actual customers. That way, you can be as awkward as you want, without you having to worry about losing a customer.

  1. Ask them “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?”
  2. Get curious
    • Ask about the last time they encountered that problem. Understand both when it happened and what happened when they encountered that problem.
    • Ask why it was hard
    • Ask about the solutions they’re trying and what’s not ideal about those solutions.

    By this point you should be able to rattle off 10 questions or so before anyone asks you anything. This is because you’re getting comfortable with this approach but also because you’re talking to someone who is really passionate about their problems (they’re fellow startup founders).

  3. Don’t offer solutions during the conversation.
      Take notes about the problems that they’re encountering and follow up with an email the next day offering suggestions on solutions to their problem.

By the way, this approach to networking is the core of the Silicon Valley culture. Great networking is genuinely caring about connecting with someone else, and helping them. Not only are you building your customer interviewing skills, you’re building your network and networking skills as well.

After you’ve repeated this process at two or three networking events, you’ve successfully crawled, walked and run your way to confident interviewing skills.

Now it’s time to fly.

Fly: Interview Your Customers
Fly - Interview Customers

By this point, talking to people about their challenges and connecting with them on an emotional level will feel like second nature. So don’t forget to:

  • Get your Interview Script
  • Remember what it was like for your previous interviewees. People really enjoy someone genuinely connecting with them and being interested in their problems. You’re not inconveniencing them by genuinely listening to their problems.

You’re not only a great customer interviewer by this point, you’re also:

  • A great listener
  • A fantastic networker
  • An budding, non-sleazy, sales-person
  • A strong communicator

Want some more help?

If you’d like some extra help on developing your interviewing skills including:

  • How to accelerate your skill development (the above can all be done within a week)
  • Some additional tips on eliciting and asking about emotions (other ways to talk about emotions without things feeling uncomfortable)
  • What it feels like to be interviewed (this experience will make you immeasurably more comfortable because you’ll know what your interviewees are experiencing)

Interviewing Like a Pro

Check out the Interviewing Like a Pro exercise in the FOCUS Framework. This exercise is the 12th exercise in the 1st workbook in the FOCUS Framework.

What’s Next

Now you know how to crawl, walk, run and fly your way to overcoming your customer interviewing anxiety.

After having conducted dozens of interviews with non-customers, you’ll have developed your interviewing skills to the point that you feel confident and comfortable interviewing anyone, especially your Early Adopters.

How Many Customers Should You Interview?

If you’re wondering how many customer interviews you should conduct, you’re not alone.

This is a really common question, and there are a few common answers.

First let’s discuss those common answers, and what they’re lacking, so you can understand the benefits of a different approach.

Not Useful Answer #1:

“Interview until you stop learning.”

Unfortunately, this approach isn’t very useful because, whenever you talk with anyone, you’ll be learning something new.

So the question ends up being, “When have you learned enough that you can move on to the next step?” which is just as difficult a question to answer as “How many people should I interview?” so you’re no better off than you were before.

Not Useful Answer #2:

“You should do X number of videos per week, or Y number of total interviews.”

I’m really not a fan of this approach.

If your goal is to interview until you have a certain number of conversations, you’ll end up focusing more on the quantity of interviews, and less on the quality – which will end up being a huge waste of time.

Let’s talk about a different approach, one that I find much more helpful.

The 3 of 5 Rule

Customer Interviews - 3 of 5 Rule

Here’s how I conduct interviews, and how I recommend you conduct yours:

  1. Start by interviewing a batch of 5 customers (one at a time)
  2. Analyze those interviews
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until…
  4. At least 3 of the last 5 people you’ve interviewed, are Early Adopters.

By the way, if you haven’t read my articles on Early Adopters yet, you need to stop reading this, and read them now. Not only will they help you throughout your startup journey, it will be hard to make the most of the rest of this article without that context.

Early Adopters

Early Adopters - Seeking a Solution

You’ll recall from my previous posts, Early Adopters are customers who:

✓ Have the problem you’re trying to solve
✓ Know they have the problem you’re trying to solve
✓ Are actively seeking a solution to that problem

If 3 of the last 5 people you talk to are actively seeking a solution to the problem you’re trying to solve, you’ve found your Early Adopters.

Once you’ve found your Early Adopters, you’re ready to move on to your Offer Testing.

Why Batches of 5 Interviews?

Because interview quality is exponentially more important than interview quantity.

Interview quality > quantity

The whole point of doing these interviews is to do qualitative research.

This is your chance to do a deep dive with individual customers.

  • You can better understand what problems they’re seeking solutions for
  • Why they’re seeking those solutions and
  • Where they’re looking for solutions.

You’ll worry about doing quantitative research later on in Offer Testing, but for right now, you need to focus doing a small number of high-quality, in-depth interviews, with the right people.

If you try to interview more than five people at a time, you may accidentally force yourself to widen the scope of people you’re willing to talk to.

Interview Right People

Before you know it, you’re interviewing people across different customer segments, and ultimately you’ll be unable to find a pattern of the problems you’re trying to solve.

The other reason I recommend interviewing customers in batches of 5 is…

Patterns Emerge Very Quickly

Patterns emerge very quickly

When you’re interviewing Early Adopters you’ll quickly see…

Your Early Adopters will describe the same problems in the same way.

Once 60% (3 out of 5) of the people you’re talking to describe the same problems in the same way, you’ve found your Early Adopters!

Once you’ve confirmed you’ve found your Early Adopters on this small scale, you’ll be ready to do your Offer Testing, where you validate you can find your Early Adopters on a large scale – large enough to give you confidence you can achieve Product-Market Fit.

Keys to Efficient & Effective Interviews

Keys to Efficient & Effective Interviews

To get the best return on your interviewing investment, be sure to

1. Use Externally Observable Behaviors (EOBs) to interview potential Early Adopters

If you don’t know what EOBs are, or haven’t memorized the definition of Early Adopters yet, read this article and this one.

2. Use the 3 of 5 Rule:

a. Interview customers in batches of 5
b. Analyze the results. Niche. And Repeat if necessary.
c. You’re done interviewing when 3 of the last 5 people are Early Adopters

Want Some Help?

Now you know the fundamentals behind how many interviews you need to conduct, but it’s completely normal to still run into some trouble, like…

  • You’re interviewing customers but no pattern is emerging.
  • You’re having trouble even getting 5 interviews.
  • You’re not sure if you’re asking the right questions.

5-Interview Checkpoint

If any of the above applies to you, or you just want some more detailed guidance on customer interviewing, take a look at the 5-Interview Checkpoint. It’s the 11th exercise in the first FOCUS Framework workbook series and it will help you…

  • Analyze your interviews
  • Determine if you’ve met the 3 of 5 rule
  • Find a pattern amongst the problems
  • Figure out what to do if you aren’t getting interviews
  • Know what to ask during your interviews

The FOCUS Framework is used by thousands of founders to help them take action finding Product-Market Fit. Check it out and see if it can help you.

What’s Next

Now you know exactly how many customers to interview, and when you’re ready for Offer Testing.

Go out and talk to your customers!

focus framework adoption behavior curve

Which Customers Should you Interview?

In this article you’ll learn exactly who you should be interviewing, where, and how to find them.

In Part 1 of this series on Early Adopters, we talked about two aspects of Early Adopters:

  • What are Early Adopters?
  • Who are yours?

Make sure you’ve read Early Adopters Part 1: Who They Are. It’s fundamental you understand the underlying principles of “Early Adopters” before you dive into Part 2.

In the previous article, we discussed that Early Adopters are customers who:

  • Have the problem you’re trying to solve
  • Know they have the problem and
  • Are actively seeking solution for it.

Today, we’re going to dive in deeper and explore where to find your Early Adopters. We start with the 3rd piece of the Early Adopter definition, “actively seeking a solution.” That’s the secret to finding your Early Adopters,

…and Early Adopters are the secret to building a successful startup.

where to find early adopters

If you can find Early Adopters, people who are actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solve, there’s an incredible fit between both of your needs. You need them to build a business and they need you to solve their problem. You’ll get to collaborate with your Early Adopters to build a mutually beneficial startup.

On the other hand, if you’re not able to find your Early Adopters, you know from Part 1 that you won’t be able to lock in your Early Majority. This means, you won’t find Product-Market Fit.

If you’re not able to find people who are actively seeking a solution to the problem that you want to solve right now, the world isn’t ready for your business yet.

It doesn’t mean you’re starting a bad business if you can’t find Early Adopters, it just means the timing isn’t right.

how to find early adopters

As you can see, it’s absolutely critical you find your Early Adopters. So let’s talk about…

How Do You Find Your Early Adopters?

You can find your Early Adopters using 2 questions as a guide. The first is:

  1. Where are they seeking solutions?

Let’s say, your startup wants to reduce the impact of climate change, so you want to help people commute to work without the use of cars/Uber/Lyft/etc. You’re targeting urban workers and think if you could help people take their bikes on the subway, it would make a significant impact.

So you hypothesize the problem commuters want to solve is, “It’s a pain to take my bike on a subway.”

To find your Early Adopters (i.e. people already seeking a solution to this problem), first ask yourself, what are the behaviors of someone who is actively seeking a solution to this problem right now?

In other words, where would a person who says, “It’s a pain to take my bike on a subway” look for a solution right now?

These actions make up your Solution Seeking Behaviors list.

solution seeking behaviors

Maybe, they’d buy a folding bike or ride a mini bike. Maybe they’re asking other people for advice on forums. Or maybe they use their normal bike and just wait for a spacious subway car before getting on.

This list answers our first question, “Where are they seeking solutions?”, which will lead us to the answer of our second question:

  1. How do you talk to them?

This list of solution seeking behaviors is a great start, but…

It’s critical you talk to the people who demonstrate these behaviors to see what problem they are actually trying to solve.

Just because someone buys a folding bike, doesn’t mean they bought it to solve problems getting on a subway. They could have bought a folding bike because they have a lot of stairs leading up to their apartment. Or the subway was their motivation for buying a folding bike, and it completely solved their problem (i.e. they’re no longer Early Adopters because they’ve found an ideal solution).

You need to interview the people who you think are trying to solve the problem your startup is tackling to confirm they are actually your Early Adopters.

In the folding bike owner’s example, we’d want to talk to several of them to validate whether getting on the subway was the reason they bought their bikes. Of course, we don’t exactly have a list of everyone who has bought a folding bike, so how do we find them?

The next step is to convert Solution Seeking Behaviors to, what I call, Externally Observable Behaviors.

You started with behaviors that may indicate someone is trying to solve a problem.

If you turn a Solution Seeking Behavior into a behavior an “External Observer” (i.e. you) can identify, you’ve probably found an Early Adopter.

how to find early adopters

What if, instead of targeting everyone who has bought a folding bike, you reach out to people who have left reviews on Amazon saying something like, “I bought this to help with my subway commute, but it takes too long to fold up and it’s too heavy to lug up and down the stairs.”?

In this case, you’ll have found someone who clearly is trying to solve the bike and subway problem, and because they’re leaving negative feedback about it, there’s a good chance they’re still actively trying to solve this problem.

What if you find someone who’s blogging about what a pain it is to take their mini-bike on the subway? This person is actively trying to solve this problem and still hasn’t found a great solution. Neither have any of the people who share that blog post on Twitter, or who comment on the blog post!

What about someone who has posted on Reddit asking advice from others about how to solve this problem? This behavior means they’ve self-identified as an Early Adopter and they’re looking to solve this problem.

What if you go hang out in the subway and see if bike riders actually wait for empty cars before getting onboard? You can have a short conversation with these people to see what problem they are trying to solve.

You can see, this list of externally observable behaviors helps you answer the question: where do you find your Early Adopters? The answer is written within each of these behaviors.

You find Early Adopters in the places that they are trying to solve their problems.

In the biking example, we’d find them on Amazon, Twitter, Reddit, and in the Subway.

Once you write down the externally observable behaviors—things that you as an outsider can see—you know where to find your Early Adopters.

externally observable behaviors

Finding Your Early Adopters

When you’re thinking about Early Adopters, keep 3 things in mind:

  1. Focus on the people who are seeking a solution to the problem right now.
  2. Ask yourself what behaviors these people would take to seek out a solution to their problem.
  3. Turn those Solution Seeking Behaviors into Externally Observable Behaviors and go where the Early Adopters are.

Once you know the Externally Observable Behaviors of people actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solve, you’ve discovered where to find your Early Adopters.

Want a Hand?

If you want a little help to figure out…

  • Who your Early Adopters are so that you can answer the question…
  • Is the world ready for your company, and
  • How to talk to them once you’ve identified them…

Check out the second half of the Adopter Behavior Curve, the 4th exercise in the first FOCUS Framework workbook series. It will take you step by step through the process of identifying your customers’ Externally Observable Behaviors, so that you know where they are and how to reach out to them.

focus framework adoption behavior curve

Alright, my friends, now that you know where to find your Early Adopters, go help them solve their problems!

adoption behavior curve worksheet

Early Adopters Part 1: Who They Are

On the path to your Product Market Fit, not all potential customers are created equal—at least, not at the beginning.

The first group of people you need to win over are your Early Adopters.

In this post, you’ll figure out who your Early Adopters are, but first, we need to get on the same page and answer the question…

What Are Early Adopters?

Many think “Early Adopters” are people who sleep outside of the Apple store before a big launch. People who always have the latest new gadget is one definition of Early Adopter, but that’s not who we’re referring to in the context of entrepreneurship.

In entrepreneurship, the Early Adopters are the first group of people that buy any new product/service (tech or otherwise). The Early Adopters are followed by the Early Majority, Late Majority, and the Laggards.

This is a simplified version of the Diffusion of Innovations Curve.
A simplified version of the Diffusion of Innovations Curve.

The Diffusion of Innovations curve represents the growth of a product over time in terms of customers. Many of you will achieve Product Market Fit once your Early Majority is using your product.

But there’s one thing you have to do before your Early Majority will jump on board…

You have to get your Early Adopters.

Why Do Early Adopters Matter So Much?

Without Early Adopters, there’s no one to tell your Early Majority about your product. If you don’t get your Early Majority, no one will convince your Late Majority to use your product, and of course, you’ll never find your Laggards.

Your entire growth process starts with and depends on your Early Adopters. In fact…

If you can’t find Early Adopters for your product, you won’t find Product Market Fit.

Who Are Your Early Adopters?

To understand who your Early Adopters are, you need to remember something I talk about all the time: customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

customers don't buy products. they buy solutions to problems.

So, the way to tell if someone is an Early Adopter is to assess their relationship to the problem you want to solve.

who are early adoptersFor instance, let’s say the customers you want to serve are startup founders and the problem you want to solve for them is, “I’m not sure how to do Lean Startup.” (They buy into the theory, but they have difficulty applying the principles.)

I’ll break down each of the groups on the Diffusion of Innovations Curve using this example, so you can see what makes Early Adopters so unique.

Let’s start with the…


Laggards are people who fall into your customer segment, but they will be the very last group of people to use your product or service. Why?

Because laggards are people in your segment who literally don’t have the problem you’re trying to solve.

who are the laggards

In our startup founder example, our laggards would be startup founders who don’t have problems with their inability to apply Lean Startup—people like…

  • Lean Startup experts (e.g. Eric Ries, Ash Maurya, Steve Blank, etc.)
  • Startup founders who leverage different methodologies (e.g. Jobs to Be Done, Design Thinking, etc.)
  • Startup founders who have no methodology at all (e.g. the “build it and they will come” founders).

You can see, none of the groups listed above would ever say the words, “I’m not sure how to do Lean Startup”, so they’re going to be the last group of people we build a solution for.

Since they don’t have the problem, you can infer that they don’t know they have a problem, and therefore, aren’t actively seeking a solution to it. So, they get X’s down the entire column in the chart above.

Late Majority

The Late Majority are customers who suffer from the problem, but don’t realize it yet (even if you do). You can identify a member of your Late Majority by these characteristics:

  1. who are the late majorityThey have the problem you’re trying to solve but
  2. They don’t know they have the problem.

For instance, a Late Majority startup founder might call herself “lean” because she has/spends very little money (an incorrect definition of Lean). Alternatively, someone who thinks an ”MVP” is the same thing as a beta version of the product could also be considered a member our Late Majority.

We know these people will have problems applying Lean Startup principles, because they don’t understand them.

If you have to educate your customers about their problems, you’re talking to a member of the Late Majority.

Members of the Late Majority are extremely difficult to sell to because you have to spend a lot of time just to get their attention…only so you can convince them they have a problem!

No one likes to be told they have a problem they don’t see in themselves, so it’s a huge waste of time to try and convince your customers they have a problem that you see and they don’t.

Of course, since they don’t know they have a problem, they aren’t “actively seeking a solution for it.”

Early Majority

who are the early majorityThe Early Majority is more aware of their problems than the Late Majority. The Early Majority…

  1. Have the problem you’re trying to sove and
  2. Know they have the problem, but
  3. They aren’t actively looking for solutions to it.

Members of your Early Majority are awesome because they’re already convinced they have a problem; they just aren’t actively seeking a solution to it, usually for two reasons:

  1. The problem isn’t painful enough yet (e.g. a founder who just started reading Lean Startup but hasn’t started to implement it).
  2. They’ve looked for solutions before but didn’t find anything suitable, so they stopped looking.

This group of customers, along with your Late Majority, will make up the vast majority of your eventual customers. It’s great to know that they are there because…

The Early Majority is often big enough to help you achieve Product Market Fit, but they won’t come onboard until you first have Early Adopters.

Early Adopters

who are early adoptersAn Early Adopter meets all the following criteria:

  1. They have the problem you’re trying to solve
  2. They know they have it and
  3. They are actively seeking solutions to it.

These are the people you want to target first. They’re already looking for a solution, so they are much more likely to take a risk trying out a new product — a product they’ve never heard of, from a company they’ve never heard of — like yours!

In fact, Early Adopters are so excited about solving their problem, they’ll often pre-pay you to build a solution for them. Then, they’ll happily spread the message to other people who have the same problem (i.e your Early Majority).

Think of any successful Kickstarter campaign – they’re supported by hoards of Early Adopters, pre-paying to solve a “problem” (whether physical, emotional, or intellectual), who then share that solution with their friends via Facebook and Twitter. By the way, the same principles apply in B2B scenarios as well (just with less publicly visiblefanfare).

This, my friends, is how you achieve Product Market Fit.

  1. Find your Early Adopters who are already seeking a solution to a problem.
  2. Help them solve it.
  3. Then, they’ll tell your Early Majority about it for you.

Next: Finding Your Early Adopters in Real Life

Now that you know what to look for in an Early Adopter, you can identity them for your startup.

Start by writing down the actions an Early Adopter might make when looking for a solution to their problem.

For instance, if you found this blog by searching for articles on a specific topic, you’re an Early Adopter in our startup founder example because you’re actively seeking a solution for applying Lean Startup principles.

However, if a friend shared this blog with you and you thought, “Interesting, maybe I’ll check it out,” you might be in the Early Majority; you know you have a problem, but maybe you weren’t actively seeking a solution to it.

The bottom line is:

You need to find the people who are actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solve. These will be your first customers.

Want Help?

If you want detailed guidance finding your Early Adopters, take a look at the Adoption Behavior Curve worksheet. It’s the 4th exercise in the first FOCUS Framework workbook.

With it, you’ll discover exactly:

  • Who your Early Adopters are,
  • Where you can find them, and
  • How to reach out to them.

adoption behavior curve worksheet

Now you know the key to identifying your Early Adopters. Look for people who:

  • Have the problem,
  • Know they have the problem, and
  • Are actively seeking a solution for it.

For Part 2 of this series on Early Adopters, check out Early Adopters Part 2: Who you should Interview.

find good business ideas

The Secret to Finding Good Business Ideas

Good ideas matter. It’s hard to start a company if you don’t have an idea.

But… having one business idea is never enough.

Let me show you why.

Imagine you have an idea that you’re really passionate about. You set out excited to validate it with potential customers, but the feedback you get is disappointing. No one’s interested. No one wants to buy. Basically, the world is saying: “That’s interesting.”(which is the polite way of saying “No thank you.”)

find good business ideas


With only one idea, you’re left with 2 choices:

  • Give up on your idea (and your identity as a founder).
  • Ignore what your customers are telling you and press onward.

Both of these choices are terrible. I don’t want you to give up, and I don’t want you to ignore your customers.

You need a third option, and I want to recommend one: backup business ideas.

If you have a set of backup business ideas, you can listen to your customers with open ears and an open mind. So what if the world isn’t ready for first idea yet, as long as you have other ideas you’re excited about pivoting to.

Having backup ideas helps you validate your primary idea faster.

Why are Good Ideas Hard to Come By?

To come up with good ideas, we have to first understand why they’re so hard to come by.

Turns out, there are two types of people in the world:

  1. People who are bad at coming up with business ideas.
  2. People who are bad at coming up with good business ideas.

find good business ideas


People who don’t identify as “creative thinkers” don’t believe they can come up with good business ideas.

While people who do identify as creative (myself included) come up with ideas on a daily basis. The problem is, no matter how excited we get about our ideas…they’re almost always awful.

No matter who you think you are—creative or non-creative—we’re all really bad at coming up with good business ideas. Here’s why.

Imagine someone coming up with a good business idea. What do you think that process looks like?

You’re probably thinking of someone, deep in thought, getting struck by some form of inspiration. At that moment, they’ve come up with some brilliant new app, service, or innovative widget. Unfortunately for that imaginary founder, their great new idea is doomed to fail – their customers, more than likely, are going to reject them. Why?

Customers reject products for one simple reason:

Customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

find good business ideas


The Secret to Good Business Ideas

We can’t think our way to an interesting product. Since we know customers buy solutions to problems, we have to first start with the problem!

The secret to coming up with good business ideas isn’t to focus on the “idea” at all…it’s to focus on the problems we want to solve.

The ultimate secret to coming up with good ideas is to focus on the problem not the product.

find good business ideas


Problem Storming: Your Secret Weapon for Good Ideas

To figure out which problems you are uniquely suited to go and solve, let’s use an exercise called Problem Storming.

When I do this exercise in workshops with founders, we come up with at least 5 quality business problems to go solve.

Here’s a quick intro into how it works:

  1. Write down 2 groups of people you identify with, e.g. full-time working mothers, recent college graduates, vegetarians, etc..
  2. Now write down 2 different groups of people you’re passionate about helping, e.g. under-resourced children, skateboarders, meditators, etc.. You should now have at least 4 different groups of people written down.
  3. Write 2 potential problems that each group might be trying to solve right now.
    For instance, skateboarders might have problems transporting their skateboard on public transit, working mothers may feel guilty that they don’t spend as much time helping their kids with homework as stay-at-home moms, etc.

find good business ideas


By the time you’re finished, you’ll have at least 8 different problems you are uniquely suited to solve because…

  • you experience the problem yourself OR
  • you’re passionate about solving that problem for others.

This is the beginning of the Problem Storming process. After 8 ideas, you’ll have at least 1— probably 2—promising problems to go investigate.

What’s Next

If you only take one thing away from this lesson, it should be this:

Customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

So the secret to good business ideas isn’t to focus on the “idea”, it’s to focus on “problems.” When you use your customers’ problems as the inspiration for your “idea”, your customers will be so elated, they’ll pre-pay you for the solution:

That’s how you know you’re on track to a good idea.

Keep Problem Storming until you have at least 3 problems you’re excited to solve. Once you have those, it’s time to prioritize those problems and start validating that people are trying to solve them!

Want Some Help?

Take a look at the full Idea Generation Process. It will help you:

  1. Explore all of the problems you're uniquely suited to solve
  2. Identify the best one for you to tackle
  3. And come up with at least 5 backup ideas you're excited about

The Idea Generation Process is the second exercise in the FOCUS Framework workbook series. 

FOCUS breaks down the overwhelming process of finding Product-Market Fit, into actionable steps.

If you want help applying the Lean Startup or Business Model Validation processes, take a look at the FOCUS Framework.