It was on Twitter —the place where all the best discussions start—when I noticed a tweet from Andrew Warner of the infamous Mixergy.com that mentioned he was looking to for someone to join his team. Instead of asking for resumes and fluffy cover letters, he proposed a challenge. He posted a series of question on his blog and said ‘may the one with the best answers win.”
The word ‘challenge’ rang in my ears. Aside from the fact that I was borderline-obsessed with Internet entrepreneurs at the time (this was over two years ago, so of course I’m no longer obsessed with any of them—not even Dave Morin or Chris Sacca) what made me want this job even more was that I. Love. Challenges.
I thrive off of challenges and gravitate towards anything or anyone I feel I’m remotely qualified to challenge.
So I dropped everything that night and took a look at the questionnaire on his blog, hoping that I was one of just a few of his 40k followers that night happened to notice the tweet.
When I started reading, I began to realize most of the questions were boring (“What do you hope to get out of this opportunity, blah blah.”) which would make it harder to stand out, and frankly, more difficult for me to muster up the motivation to answer the questions. But just as I was contemplating answering them, I saw the opportunity buried in the last two questions:
Which entrepreneur would you invite to do an Interview with Andrew Warner and why?
Get the contact information of this person.
So I was hooked to finding *the* most exclusive entrepreneur to interview and getting his or her information.
My customer development itch came in mid-google, and I shook my head at what I first started to do, which was google every successful founder to see who had books coming out or sites to promote (as if no one else would think of that). I thought to myself: no no no. You must ask the viewers who they want to view.
Why would I, or Andrew for that matter, know who he should interview? The idea is to get eyeballs, engagement, buzz from this interviewer, so why not just ask those eyeballs in advance who they’d be most interested in watching?
So I did.
I put together one of the most basic methods of customer development, which was never a favorite, but is always the quickest. It’s called ‘the Survey.’ You write a list of questions and try and get a good number of people to answer them. The more people who answer the questions, the more statistically significant your data will be.
So I asked one survey question (the shorter the survey, the better) which acted as somewhat of a hypothesis. I put down 7 names of people I assumed would be of interest to others to watch, created a one-question wufoo survey, and that was that. The ask was simple: “Who would you want to see Andrew interview on his next show?”
David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH), 37 Signals
Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)
Joel Spolsky, StackOverflow/Fog Creek
Max Levchin (PayPal)
Jason Calacanis (Mahalo)
Mark Suster (Salesforce.com)
Dave McClure (VC, 500 Startups)
Then I tweeted the survey.
Now fast forward a few hours, and this tweet grew some serious wings. It was retweeted and retweeted and favorited and @replied.
Well, it turns out that people really want to help you find a job (even though I already had one at the time). People really want to help you find two jobs if they can. It also turns out that tagging the contestants turned out to be pretty smart, because my survey question became a contest among the the contestants. They wanted to know who would win, so they became my affiliates for getting the survey spread out far and wide, and I didn’t have to pay a dime. Brilliant.
Now fast forward two days after the applications were due in, and this is what I get in my inbox:
Yup. Those three little words in my inbox. Just from a little survey; a little cust dev.
I like telling this story because it’s one of the dumbest, smallest, ad-hoc examples of how far customer development, and art and science of asking your customers a few questions about what they want, can go.
Sure, there are the rare products that have little need for customer development and are all about technology risk (e.g. a cure for cancer), but for the rest of us, validating our hypotheses (getting some facts to inform our guesses) about what our customers want and will pay for is imperative for achieving product-market-fit.
Sure, there were some variables in my story, but in the end, you never know what the result will be, so why not try? You just might find that the reason for high churn of your family-centric photo-sharing app might not be because it costs too much, but rather because moms are too busy to share photos and find no value in your product what-so-ever. It’s the harsh realities that will get you the furthest.
If you can read the tiny text from my responses to Andrew’s questions, a whopping 853 people took my survey that night to vote on who they want to see as Andrew’s next guest. And out of that whopping survey pool, David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH), creator of Ruby on Rails and founder at 37signals took 40% of those votes.
DHH’s interview turned out to be one of the most successful and engaging interviews of all time at Mixergy.com, bringing in the most web traffic an interview has ever seen.