Internal Customer Development: Get Back in the Building!

Editor’s note: The 2015 Lean Startup Conference is just around the corner (it’s from November 16-19th in San Francisco, and there’s still time to get your ticket!) We have dozens of excellent speakers and mentors who are eager to share their product development, entrepreneurship, and innovation stories–you’ll never see these experts all in one place ever again. Learn more about them in our ‘Lean Startup Speakers’ series.

Next up is Andrea Hill, who is a Product Strategist at ReadyTalk. She’ll be giving a talk on Internal Customer Development at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference. Learn more about her here.


Get Back in the Building

Yes, you read that right.

If I learned one thing from launching the first internal startup at my company ReadyTalk, it’s that you have to focus on your most important relationships first: those who are going to support your venture until you’re up and running.

Out in the “real world” of startups, you’d be working on getting support from venture capitalists (and if you’re bootstrapped, your family and friends). In the enterprise, that support needs to come from management of various levels, and may not solely be in the form of financial support.

Consider securing internal support as your first biggest risk, and approach it as such. Who are your customers? What are their biggest pain points and concerns, and how can you address those problems in a way they will invest in?

At ReadyTalk, our management team had varying levels of exposure to the lean startup methodology. I talked with each of the key stakeholders to understand what a successful pilot meant for them, and what concerns and fears they had.

That deeper understanding about each of our key customers allowed us to engage with them and share our progress in a way that resonated with them.

We had two stakeholders who were excited about the prospect of new product development, but were unfamiliar with, and a bit skeptical about, the lean process. We engaged with them frequently so they could fully understand the approach and feel actively involved in the initiative.

We had two others who bought into the approach, and trusted the team, they just didn’t understand how this approach would impact our core business. In this case, frequent communication allayed their fears and kept them satisfied.

We were able to personalize the introduction of lean to each stakeholder to address his specific concerns, to garner the support we needed to move forward. With the big risk of funding and support out of the way, we could turn our focus to our specific project.

I look forward to sharing my experiences – including how the introduction of a Project Sponsor dramatically altered our relationship with our internal stakeholders – at the Lean Startup Conference 2015.

Andrea Hill is a Product Strategist at ReadyTalk, an audio and web conferencing provider out of Denver, CO. There she she serves as the General Manager of UbiMeet, the first company-sponsored internal startup. She is a jill-of-all-trades, able to craft falsifiable hypotheses, design functional wireframes, write customer discovery scripts, chat it up with customers, and analyze and interpret the findings to drive product decisions. She tweets at @afhill and embraces hashtags as an alternative to stringing full sentences together. #left-handed #Canadian #INTJ #marathoner