Problem Interview Guide for Lean Startup Experience

A hard part of customer development doing problem interview. It’s hard because interviewing strangers is not natural and its also actually hard to do the interview right.

The good news is that practice do make perfect, get it wrong a couple of times and you quickly understand what to correct and what to keep. If you want some simple exercices to improve your problem interview skills tweet this:
What exercice can I do to get better at problem interviews? @fdebane @adamberk

In the meantime, here the problem interview guide we use:
Download the problem interview guide

It’s to print and take as a memo for interviews.
Here is a guide to print and take as a memo for interviews.
You should not read the guide while doing the interview, but can refer to it inbetween interviews.

If you have to remember just 3 rules for problem interviews here they are:

  1. Do not talk about your business idea or product
  2. Ask about past events and behaviours
  3. No leading question, learn from the customer

Download the full problem interview guide

To capture the output of the interview, you can use the problem interview template.

Applying the Lean Startup principles to game development

A few month ago, I started exploring how the Lean Startup principles could be applied to computer game development.

This journey lead me to Alexandre Normand co-founder of Execution Labs, an accelerator for game developers inspired by Lean Startup approach. Alexandre started Execution Labs to help independent game developers produce the games they want to build.

In the past years as games shifted from being standalone products to become evolving services, the upfront paid model faded to give birth to the free to play model.

This shift made continuous improvement of computer games possible.

So how does Execution Labs apply Lean Startup to game development ?

Build the MVP/ v0 in 6 months
As the goal is to create player engagement, it’s important that the design and visuals are pretty and pleasant enough. To go faster, don’t reduce or compromise the quality of the graphics, but rather reduce the amount or variety of graphics produced.
Fixing the development time to 6 months forces to focus on what really matter for the game to be good. Some game are tested early with paper prototype.

Continuous and regular customer feedback
Test the game every other week with 10 to 15 players. Regularly player come to the Execution Lab to play with the prototypes. This provide the game developers precious qualitative feedback, on top of the quantitative tracking already in place.

Limited launch on test markets
Launch the v0 on test markets, similar enough to your target markets but with a smaller population – typically Canada, NZ, AUS or Finland.

Meta-game comes later
The initial focus is on the core loop. The goal is to test and iterate so the core become fun and engaging. The meta game comes later. The meta game will insure the longer term retention and repeated play.

Alexandre confirmed that to build a game, programming is the most time consuming activity, followed by graphic design and game design.

So as far as reducing waste, programming should be the place to look next.

Here is the Execution Lab process.


Business Agility and Luxury Companies


Hannah Koller just presented her EDHEC Master Thesis on how Luxury companies need and apply business agility concepts.
How do the concepts of agility: responsiveness, fluidity, speed, flexibility and innovation meet the concepts of luxury: symbolism, rarity, exclusivity, aesthetic, high price and quality ?

Hannah looks at this from the lens of the 3 strategic agility key based on Doz & Konsonen work:

  • Leadership Unity: Bind leadership team with a shared vision and purpose. Collective decision making and commitment to decision outcomes.
  • Strategic Sensitivity: Seeing and framing opportunities in a new insightful
  • Resource Fluidity: Fast and efficient resource mobilization and redeployment. Knowledge sharing.

Read Hannah full thesis or view the presentation.

What to read after reading the ‘Lean Startup’


I get sometimes asked for recommendation on what to read after the Lean Startup. Here are a few resources I found useful:

  • The 4 Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank – or watch Steve Blank class on Udacity which covers some of those topics. Eric Ries followed Steve Blank class at Stanford and Lean Startup was inspired by some of Steve work. It introduces the notion of Customer Development. Put simply, it’s the exact opposite of what Jean de La Fontaine said wheh he said: “Never sell the bear’s skin before one has killed the beast”.
    Customer development is the exact opposite: Here you sell the skin first. This book is about how to customers before you even start building a product.
  • Running Lean by Ash Maurya, is a very practical how to guide that will tell you, step by step how to validate / invalidate your business hypotheses. It intrudes the Lean Canvas explaining how to use with loads of examples – or get started with your own lean canvas and here is a great manual on how to do just that.

But the best thing to done, once you have read the lean startup, is to find a project of yours, and apply everything you have read / learned. This is really the best way to ancor the knowledge. Putting it to practice. And when you do, please let me know, I would love to know what else you have learned.

Getting your first customers – simplified customer development

Sometimes startups come to me with this problem: we have created this great service, how can we get our first customers.

Those startups quite often need to put a hold on product development and focus customer development.

What they don’t actually know is:
– are they addressing a real, existing problem or a burning need ?
– does their service or product actually solve the problem – to the eyes of their target customers (or to their wallets should I say).

Answering those questions with genuine insight from real people is what customer development is.

Here is how to do it. It look and sound easy can be very tricky as it’s goes against a lot of expected cultural and social behaviours.

Find 10 potential customers from the target group and understand if the problem you are solving is a big pain or they dont really care.

For each customer understand where they stand:

  1. Did they have the problem ?
  2. Did they know they have the problem ?
  3. Did they look for a solution ?
  4. Did they hack a solution ?
  5. Did they pay for a solution ?

Customer problem categorisation - customer development

Achtung! Don’t ask them those questions. Have a conversation – not an interview – about the problem you are trying to solve and understand how they are solving it today. At the end, categorize them into the buckets above.

Once this is clear, the question is, how do I find those 10 potential customers ?
Be creative, try different methods. Which ever method works best can later become one of you marketing / communication channel. Drop the one that dont work. If you can’t find those first 10 customers, how are going to find 100s of them ?

If your product solves the problem, the people that you identified as paying for a solution (the last bucket) are your potential customers. You can start selling it to them.

Which Canvas for My Project ?

So, RIP the business plan, long live the business model canvas. A new light and fresh tool that helps brings ideas into business. Now canvas and boards are popped up every where on the radar. This will help decide which one works best for your:

The Business Model Canvas
proposed by Alexander Osterwalder
Mother of them all, it’s the original canvas used the business model generation book. The canvas most widely used and documented.
To use this tools, describe your business on each of the 9 sections of the canvas (value proposition, customer segment, channels, customer relationship, key activities, key resources, partners, cost structure and revenue stream). You then treat what you have in each sections of the canvas as hypothesis. And those hypothesis might be true or false and your job is go out and learn from the field, with practical experiments which hypothesis are valid and which are not. With what you have learned, you will then change your canvas and do the same thing, until your business model is validated. Overtime, you end up with many different versions that you can overlay to see the evolution of your idea.

Download the Business Generation Canvas in PDF.

The Lean Canvas
proposed by Ash Maurya


The lean canvas is the cousin of the business model canvas coming from the ‘lean start-up’ business family. Compared to the business model canvas, it focused on the product and the market. It brings to the front the problems you are solving, the top 3 features and the key metrics you should track, leaving on the side the ‘how’ to deliver the solution. To use, this canvas, again, write down you best answer on each section, then test and iterate. This is a guide on how to create your lean canvas (pdf).

I have found this canvas is best suited for early stage business.

The Validation board
proposed by Lean Startup Machine


I found this one the most practical to quickly validate and iterate on your project idea. As the lean canvas, the problem / the customer approach and forces you to test systematically, report on results and iterate on the very same sheet and on different versions of a canvas.

The Validation Board helps you:
1. Formalise your customer segment and problem statement
2. Test assumptions one by one – starting with the riskiest one
3. Design your experiment (or MVP) and the success criteria (before you run the experiment)
4. Track the results of your experiments overtime
5. Focus only on the problem and customer segment at the beginning (later include the solution)

Here is how to use it:

Download the Validation Board in PDF.

The Happy Canvas
by Laurence McCahill


The happy canvas brings an interesting angle to the list. Like the others, it captures the problem, the solution, the early adopters and the value proposition.
What’s new is the Purpose & Vision, Value and Story. Ok, I can see how those are important for a startup business. Important to define and agree on with the other founders, but surely not something you want to iterate on every day or week.

Maybe I had a Happy Canvas in 2002 before starting RVR System, it would have saved lots of disagreement with the other co-founders. One of the reason startup fails is because of co-founder disagreement, and many be this ‘Happy Canvas’ help avoid that.

Download the Happy Canvas in PDF.

Build it and they will come

This is an insightful point from Steve Blanks’ The four steps to the epiphany: successful strategies for products that win
He says that a customer development process (which he explain is his book) is not needed for businesses where customer acceptance and market adoption is not an issue.
Those businesses don’t need a formal process to figure out there will be high end user demand for their solution. A company looking for a cure to cancer or researching a cheaper energy source know there is a demand for their solution. Their problem is more about providing the solution than selling it.

For those business the saying from the 90’s ‘build it and they will come’ is actually true.

For the rest, it will be wise to refer back to the book.

Lean Startup Machine experience

I recently attended the Lean Startup Machine workshop in London.

WOW. What an experience. 2.5 days of immersion to develop an idea into a viable and meaningful product, searching potential customers and refining the idea. A lot more excitement than what many of us get in our day job.

This workshop provides an opportunity to work on a real case, in the safety of the sandbox, guided by very helpful and insightful mentors. In teams, we practice the running experiments, building MVP, invalidation assumptions, pivoting, and ultimately doing customer development.

If you have read the Lean Startup book, this workshop is very much in the continuity and applying the theory to a practical business idea. Definitely recommend for anyone who has enjoyed the book.

Here are photo photos of the event:

Rafael explaining why you get out of the building and talk to people.
Rafael explaining why you get out of the building and talk to people.
Tim and the mentors
Tim and the mentors
My Team, working on the Public Democracy concept, with Luca and Stuart.
My team (Public Democracy concept) with Luca and Stuart and our Validation board.

Kano framework, classification of user needs

As part of the design course by Karl T. Ulrich (pictured) that I follow on (great site btw, which is changing access to knowledge in a very significant way), I came across the Kano framework to classify the user need. Vertically is the user satisfaction (if the user is satisfied or not) and horizontally is if the need is addressed or not (or can be partly adressed). Here is the framework:
kano framework

User needs can be plotted in 4 curves which are:

  • Don’t care: either it’s here or not, but not all users care: for instance on a search engine it could be the need to search for images.
  • Linear: the better it’s done, the more satisfaction the user for the search engine it could be to find an answer to the query, this is provided by the relevance of the search results.
  • Must have: If it’s not there, the user is un happy. For search engine, it could a way to enter the search query (search box).
  • Latent: Little things, un-expected that create delight. For instance the ‘see from cache’ or ‘translate page’.