Product development book review of The 4 Steps to the Epiphany

Part textbook with worksheets, part case study and all customer development model book, the 4 Steps to the Epiphany does read like homework, but it is the homework that a lot of businesses fail to do that could increase their chances of success.

Here is a book trying to educate people away from failure using a very common sense idea- develop for the customer.

The 4 Steps to the Epiphany refutes the notion that start-ups should “fail fast” (the current mantra) or “get big fast” (the mantra of the bubble) and fairly simply states it should be a focus on “find customers fast”.

Be customer centric because they are after all the people who pay for and champion your product.

The first high five to the face…

Start-ups don’t fail because they haven’t got any products. They fail because they have no customers and no proven financial model.

Is this obvious? Well, if you look around at a lot of start-ups out there, not really. Products that think pub scene bands have money and Apps that are backboned by tweets that mean nothing to anyone on Twitter really aren’t talking to the users, are they?

So instead of being caught up in what’s easiest or makes sense to you create something that makes sense to your intended customers.

To do this you have to ask yourself:

  1. What problems are you solving for the customer?
  2. Do the customers perceive these problems as important or must haves? Why/why not?
  3. How are you going to reach the people who have these problems?
  4. How big is the problem? Is it critical or important?
  5. Where do they currently go to have it solved? Is it a direct fix or do they work around it?
  6. How is what you are planning make that problem solving easier than what is currently available?

Document what your hypotheses are and hit the pavement to see if your intended customers actually have the problems you suggest. If have the right cure, celebrate. Go back to the drawing board if you don’t. Do this repeatedly, until you get it right.

The idea is pretty straight forward and potentially even a little too blunt for people to handle. The “but I like it so I can’t be the only one, right?” gets beaten out of you pretty quickly.

The whole idea of startup people validating other startup ideas is a myth dispelled fairly succinctly. You won’t see the “if I asked what the customers wanted they would have said faster horses” thing on this guy’s poster wall anytime soon.  He believes (and I am inclined to agree with him) customers need to have their say. And his argument is super compelling.

It makes a heck of a lot more sense to really dig in and define your customers and know how they are going to respond before you put your bum on the line.

So how do you do this?

Your simple The 4 Steps to the Epiphany phases…

Phase 1: Write the Brief

Write up about the product, the customers, the pricing, demand, market and competition.

Trick here is not to be naive enough to think you know all these answers yet but not dumb enough to think a cocktail napkin business plan or elevator pitch summary cuts the mustard.

Phase 2: Qualify the Assumptions

Test them in front of customers, shut your yap hole and do a lot of listening and find out the customers goals instead of influencing them.

Phase 3: Introduce the Customers to the Revised Product

Validate with them you have indeed got the solution and test the validity of your business model.

Phase 4: Verify your Product Solves a Problem

From here you write the product statement, expanded product requirements document and the sales and revenue model. Not on a napkin or on a stone tablet.

This is the overview, but hopefully you get the idea. Have you read and applied The 4 Steps to the Epiphany? What was your experience? 


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