Customer Development Using Meet-ups
The most effective way to get out of the building.
I had a great time this weekend mentoring at Lean Startup Machine San Diego where I met some terrific people and saw some great things happening in a very short amount of time. I'll hopefully share more thoughts on LSM and the Lean movement in general later. I just wanted to throw a quick tip out there for all the attendees who would like to pursue their ideas further or who would like to further apply the customer development techniques they learned this weekend.
Though it seems really obvious (and maybe it is to folks smarter than myself), one of the best ways to really get deeply into customer development is by using Meetup.com.
There are basically two scenarios for this. In the first case, whenever I'm looking at a customer or channel segment, I like to get a sense of it's cohesion, or addressability. The more addressable the better. So, the first meet-up filter to apply is 'do meet-ups exist for my customer segment?'. The existence of meet-ups in a market is a great sign and this can start to help you on your way very quickly. If there are meet-ups, see how many there are, what their membership levels are, and what if any sub-segments they revolve around. this is all fantastic information and may help inform your hypotheses about the size, nature, fragmentation, and addressability of your customer base.
The obvious follow-on, of course, is to actually join and attend the meet-ups. Here are your potential customers and partners in the flesh coming together to discuss their pain and to share their experiences and solutions. Needless to say, it's far easier to attend a meet-up of wine-fanatics than it is to drive all over the county to various wineries and wine stores. Also, it almost goes without saying that the folks who bother to attend meet-ups like these are in fact more likely to be fanatics, and to ultimately become impassioned-foaming-at-the-mouth advocates for you and your brand if you bring them real value.
Secondly, say there are no meet-ups for your segment. Do not despair! The lean entrepreneur is the scrappy entrepreneur. This also represents an opportunity in the sense that you can create your own meet-up and promote it as you would any other lean experiment or hypothesis. Doing so has the added benefit of demonstrating brand leadership and building enormous brand equity as the both the organizer and service provider to a market segment. Needless to say, this scenario has myriad advantages over merely launching splash pages and the like (I would advocate meet-ups as an additional arrow in your quiver, not a replacement to standard online testing) because in this case you have (or haven't) confirmed interest for your market, and at the same time you have aggregated your customers to you in the flesh where you can establish relationships, listen attentively, and conduct deep follow-on customer development on a regular basis.
Honestly, there is so much value and so much to learn in creating your own group, that I would advocate doing so even if groups already do exist for your segment. See if you can present a slightly different take or orientation to the market. At the very least, for the products for which it can make sense, creating a 'users group' meet-up is a fantastic way to cultivate fanaticism/evangelism and get visceral user feedback.
On a side-note, I'm getting ready to formally launch this blog in the next few weeks. As such, I'd hugely appreciate any and all comments or feedback (right here, or on twitter, or contact me directly). also let me know if there are any additional topics you'd like to see covered, and do please share the love if this is interesting or helpful to you. Thanks!!!