Since settling on a general business focus in June of last year, we have moved deliberately to develop our first product (as discussed in a prior post) and relied heavily on customer input to inform our critical design decisions.

Done well, our framework has a few noteworthy attributes:

  • It’s exhaustive: achieving a true understanding of the customer processes is a prerequisite to building a universally attractive software product. This requires not just depth (diving into the details), but also breadth (working with a significant sample size of prospective customers). One of the seminal guidebooks for customer discovery, Inspired, suggests the right number of pilot companies for research to be six, but we believe a slightly larger number is better in our situation.
  • It’s iterative: meeting with pilot companies is not a “one-and-done” proposition. While levels of engagement vary, we are typically in regular contact with clarifying questions or to solicit feedback on design ideas.
  • It’s involved: these business problems are hard, and we started as novices in this subject matter. Getting up the learning curve was challenging and required time and patience — ours, as well as on the part of the pilot customers as well.

This process— given the time, resources, and ability — offers the best chance for a successful outcome. The collaboration between outsiders (who bring a fresh perspective) and insiders (who experience the day-to-day business challenges) creates an environment where a novel and powerful solution is most likely.

From a purely transactional perspective, it’s obvious how Gain Compliance benefits from this relationship: we are leveraging this joint effort to build a profitable product. But what about the pilot customers? Why are they spending their time and lending their expertise to help us?

While our investment is far, far greater than theirs, our pilot customers have been incredibly generous. And, unless you’re working alongside them, their level of contribution might be surprising. But, if you are in the trenches of this project, the involvement of the pilot customers is incredibly natural.

To explain this, let me pose a question:

If you worked in a highly specialized role on a very complex task, if you had this responsibility for years, if the lack of tools were woefully inadequate to complete the task efficiently and accurately, and if someone came along who was genuinely interested in fixing this problem, would you offer feedback and assistance?

Flipping this around: the high level of partner commitment is both very much appreciated and completely unsurprising from our end.

In fact, as one of the other founders detailed in his post about assessing market opportunities, the willingness of customers to engage is the acid test of whether we’re onto something. It’s a prerequisite: we would not have chosen to pursue this market if we had not found pilot customers whose business challenges were big enough to warrant working closely with us on a solution.

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