For Starters: How To Truly Understand Your Customers From The Beginning

There are a million to-do’s on a founder’s mind when starting a business. To some, customer discovery is at the bottom of the list. But Robbie Allen, the host of For Starters, has seen it happen too many times where founders neglect doing customer research in the early days and wind up perplexed when their product isn’t selling, leading to many dollars and time spent pivoting their business model.

So save yourself the headaches later on and listen to Episode 7 of For Starters to learn exactly how to do customer discovery correctly.  

In this episode, Allen talks with guest Tom Collopy, who has advised numerous startups through RIoT, NC IDEA, CED and Techstars. Collopy shares what he calls the “four fatal founder flaws” that inhibit even the most determined entrepreneurs from doing customer discovery effectively. Once Collopy gives his advice for combating those problems, he shares the tried-and-true sequence of steps that are an integral part of every fruitful customer discovery process. 

Here are some key points from the episode: 

  • Doing customer discovery involves a lot of conversations with target customers. Recalling incorrectly what customers said is the first fatal founder flaw, Collopy said. Rather than feverishly scribbling down notes as they talk, Collopy recommends recording using a transcription service like, which records and transcribes meetings up to 40 minutes for free (9:00).
  • Founders also fall into the trap of failing to observe other problems a customer is experiencing because they are too focused on what they think the main problem is, Collopy said. This tendency for founders to cherry-pick observations and data that support their beliefs about their startups—aka confirmation bias—inhibits their ability to accurately assess a customer’s ability and willingness to buy the product (14:00).
  • The first step in customer discovery is for founders to confirm their target customers have the problems the founders think they have. Collopy advises: have the customer walk through the sequence of steps they experience while having the problem related to your product. Then, ask what the most frustrating points are along the way, and build your product around alleviating those dissatisfactions.  (28:00)
  • After the “problem-discovery” conversations, Collopy recommends founders start “solution-discovery” conversations to check if their target customers would actually buy the product in question to alleviate their problem. The intensity of their desire is key. As Allen puts it, “Simply saying your product is ‘nice’ is akin to selling a vitamin—it’s something that is ‘nice to have.’ To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to sell aspirins, something that people ‘must have.’” (40:00)

Don’t miss other key points from the episode! Listen to the full show below, and thanks as always to the show’s sponsor, Robinson Bradshaw law firm: