Ready, Set, Customers!

Posted in Blog on October 18, 2019

Ready, Set, Customers!

By Amanda Chocko, Director of SURGE powered by Lakeshore Advantage

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One day back in 2003 I was driving in my car listening to an interview on NPR by the rabbi who invented Speed Dating. He was sharing a story of how he was dismayed by the number of people in his congregation who were marrying outside of the Jewish religion.  To rectify this he invented “Speed Dating”. He hosted events for Jewish singles at bagel shops around California and had enormous success. The company grew and added locations in NYC.  People had to sign up on a waiting list to get into the events.
 
As I listened a lightbulb went off and I thought with much excitement, “We need speed dating in Holland! It is hard being single in Holland (said my married self). I will start Christian Speed Dating!” It was then that my company “Ready Set Date!” was born.
 
I got busy setting up my business. I had my logo and website designed. I set up my process and found a venue. I was ready for the big launch! Then I was greeted by the sound of… CRICKETS.  
 
It seemed that Holland wasn’t ready for speed dating. How could this be? I had identified a problem and had a great solution. It worked so well in other places. The problem was I never took the time to speak to my target market. I never asked any of them if my business solved their problem. I never asked if they would come to my events; never asked if they would pay to do so. I launched my business based on a business plan full of assumptions.
 
I am not the only entrepreneur who has had this experience. It is estimated that 9 out of 10 startups fail. And one of the biggest reasons is a lack of customers. So what is the remedy?  A methodology called “Customer Development”.
 
Developed by Stanford University professor, Steve Blank, Customer Development is a step- by-step framework where entrepreneurs use market feedback to help them create a viable business. The course has been adopted by universities and startup incubators across the country. This past September, Lakeshore Advantage incorporated this framework to launch our very first “SURGE BoostCamp.”
 
SURGE Boostcamp is a 12-week proof of concept program that takes technology and product startups through a customer development framework to help them validate their business ideas. The goal is to get feedback from up to 100 potential customers to better understand their pain points and needs. This information will help them to make sure they are creating a solution that can scale into a viable business. This first cohort includes 10 startups and 5 mentors who provide support and accountability.
 
Learning is the main objective of the program. Some startups will validate their business assumptions, others may “pivot” into a different market or tweak their solution, and others may decide not to proceed with their business at all. 
 
So back to Ready Set Date! Although I did not have enough customers to create a viable business, I did notice something at the few events I did have. People were exchanging business cards. “Ready Set Date!” pivoted to become “Ready Set Network!” I spent two years going around the state facilitating speed networking events for professionals. Those events led me to facilitating events at Lakeshore Advantage. And the rest is history!