Given deadlines, budgets, and other limitations, entrepreneurs should opt to trim the scope of a product/ feature list over sacrificing quality. Of course, if entrepreneurs are truly building an MVP, there won’t be too much room to trim.
In cases I’ve alluded to in my previous posts, many startups and wantrepreneurs make the mistake of jam-packing version 1.0 with several features without giving much attention to quality.
Having started a development shop recently with a couple previous partners, we must manage expectations. Many clients ask for feature-filled products from the get-go. We’ll provide them our thoughts on a more lean approach, but also give them what they asked for. Unsurprisingly, many companies and wantrepreneurs are sticker-shocked… some naivety to the technology and development world, many believe coding/ programming is simple and can be done cheaply.
With a budget half of our estimate, many still ask to fit all the features in believing they can sacrifice some level of quality in favor of more features. However, we push back – trimming scope rather than quality knowing that delivering all of the features would likely leave the product susceptible to quality issues.
In many markets, and indeed relationships, customers are less-forgiving regarding crashes and bugs vs. believing “in the vision” of what a product could be. That is, if customers are trialing a product, a feature-filled product with several bugs can be hard to use. Any feedback received will likely be around the bugs themselves.
Instead, the advisable route would be obtaining feedback regarding user experience and desired features – a well-built product with limited scope. User feedback would then lean towards “asking for new features” – the market pulls the startup in a direction with demand and products aren’t over-developed.
How could you argue features could be valued over quality? How else could stringent facets like timelines, budget, and the like be mitigated? What conditions would customers be more forgiving regarding quality of a new product or service?
Working with several startups over the last couple years, I’ve noticed a recurring theme with well-funded companies using third-party contractors – that is, many sacrifice quality in favor of urgency to deliver a more feature-rich product oftentimes by cutting corners.
That is, startups aim for seemingly arbitrary dates to deliver a product, forgoing things like customer discovery or shifting responsibilities to contractors. In some cases, contractors have not worked in the startup environment or are bought into the business to make the best decisions.
  • I believe the “business” should define what the user flow (experience) should look like with input by a UI/ UX designer. Except in one project, the business shifted user flows to the UI/ UX designer. Being an outside resource without the experience of the business, the designer was left to insert his own vision. So when designs were up for approval, the business owners threw up all over them. Why? Because the designs didn’t match their vision.
  • An early-stage entrepreneur launched a new travel platform without testing the product with customers and gathering feedback for customer acquisition. His previous life in investment banking funded his startup’s six-figure development costs. However, when he launched, he had no answers to how to acquire customers in a highly competitive market. He ended up shutting down almost immediately.
Funding/ money is a funny thing – you want it, but without control, can set unrealistic expectations and take the scrappiness out of startups. You may expect quality to go up, but instead, efforts to ameliorate investors by hitting deadlines motivate the startup to cut corners and sacrifice quality; whereas in bootstrapped, lean startups, quality is tuned to critical elements, and growth occurs more organically.
These aren’t rules… but rather anecdotes of what I’ve seen.
What are your thoughts on how funding has affected startups and expectations? How would you implement some of the lean startup and scrappy methods in a well-funded startup? How else could startups use contractors more effectively?
I wish we had tracked user engagement better with Body Boss; though, I knew where coaches were getting stuck and why they weren’t experiencing the value of what we built. I have a list of 85 schools who trialed Body Boss within 14 months, but only converted 16%. To boost conversion, we added features… Whoops!
We built several features that did lead to conversions and got us closer to product-market fit. That is, we built critical workout features that coaches needed. However, we also added features that didn’t lead to conversions like Pods – ability to track multiple player workouts with a single device vs. a one player, one device before. Coaches were really impressed with Pods and it led to several trials, but not to conversions.

Body Boss Pods on the tablet and smartphone
Why didn’t Pods or other great features not lead to conversions? Simple – the coaches never got to the point to use Pods.
What we built and why we built, is what entrepreneur Joshua Porter calls the “Next Feature Fallacy” (see: The Next Feature Fallacy).
In retrospect, the major hurdle of user/ coach engagement was building a workout program. We had improved the experience several times since v1.0; however, most fixes were band aids, and didn’t solve the problem.
So to use the new Pods feature, coaches had to build a workout program. Except, if coaches were having issues building a workout program, then they never got to Pods. 
Instead of building new features like Pods (a nice-to-have), we should have focused our efforts on user experience and helping coaches get started with Body Boss. Once we got coaches using the system, we could then track engagement metrics and tested the adoption of features like Pods.
What else could we have done to address the engagement issue? How have you developed features that consistently added value?
At Body Boss, we built features on feedback that coaches would buy and be more engaged, but we didn’t see upticks in conversions once features were built. Instead, sometimes, the best customer discovery occurs when you’re actually testing an MVP – minimum viable product.
I’ve been working with several startups since Body Boss and each claim to be building an “MVP”. But instead, they’ve overbuilt their products adding complexity in features and user experience.
From these “MVPs”, I’ve noticed common trends leading to poor adoption and significant rework:
  • Developing an MVP in silo. By nature, entrepreneurs believe they know the “right way” to address a problem, so they starting building their vision. However, the right way may only address the problem for a few versus a mass market. Building an MVP alongside customer-partners from the beginning mitigates risks of missing bigger opportunities or building unwanted features.
  • Inability to adapt hypotheses and approach. Entrepreneurs can be extremely bullish in their beliefs of what is right, resisting the pull of the market. This can be a terrible trap where the market isn’t listened to. If they aren’t heard, they won’t buy.
  • Focusing on one side. In startups with two markets (think: Uber, Airbnb with supply and demand), it’s hard to successfully recruit one market without the other. There is no “chicken” or “egg” in priority anymore. Yet, I’ve seen too much effort focused on one side, while the other is ignored.
  • Building too much, too soon. A startup should evolve as the market evolves and matures. However, many entrepreneurs try building their visions of grandeur on Day 1. As a new startup, there’s a high level of education for the market and low degree of trust. Building too much early on can overwhelm consumers (bad experience!) and potentially dilute the startup’s value proposition.

What are your thoughts of customer discovery via an MVP? What trends have you seen when building an MVP? How have startups over built MVPs that you’ve seen and the problems that have come about?

Recently, I had the displeasure of telling our Body Boss customers we were shutting down August 31st. I’ve been dreading these calls since we zombified Body Boss as of April last year – see 21 Lessons from Failure and Moving On.
Thoughts on zombification and the calls…
  •  Zombification allowed the team to showcase as a portfolio piece for other opportunities. Though not a “success” like Facebook or Uber, Body Boss was a success in many other ways. Don Pottinger and Darren Pottingerare leading amazing startups today while Andrew Reifman is growing an impressive client portfolio with beautiful UI/ UX.
  • Zombification delays the inevitable. When you are no longer working on your product or business, the market will let you go like you did.
  • Little issues become big annoyances. During zombification, we all transitioned to other opportunities. However when bugs came up, they took time to reorient ourselves back to the code.
  • Be honest. My voice was noticeably trembling on every call. But given our honesty and trust we built, customers understood our position and were supportive of us with Body Boss and beyond.
  • Have a transition plan. We notified customers in May of the sunset in August so teams could continue using Body Boss during the off-season while finding alternatives. This was appreciated.
  • Speak in-person/ on-phone. The partners who have stuck by us deserved our time. We spoke to our top partners on the phone, and resorted to email for scale.

I was scared to make the calls; however, they went well, and each call showed why I love building great products and brands… that is, we had real fans. Each call was a moment we could take pride in – hearing how much our product was loved and support moving forward. We created that from nothing but an idea…

What are your thoughts on leaving a company, product idle (“zombified”)? How would you handle sunsetting the business including notifying customers and other partners? What would make transitioning easier for you as a customer?
I met one of the co-founders of a Chattanooga-based startup recently whose company is on a growth TEAR. The company launched two years ago, and have grown to 65 full-timers and 30 part-timers with annual revenues approaching $10MM. Two years… yowza!
With such fast growth, I was curious what were his top lessons and tips he’s learned. Naturally, I asked…
  1. Treat supply and demand the same. The startup follows a model more recently popularized by Uber – that is, they hire providers to perform a service, and they sell the service to customers. Thus, the startup actually has two markets to address. Most people understand that brands must focus on customer experience, but with their model (and like Uber’s), they must also focus on the service providers. The service providers are an extension of their brand, and thus, it’s important to ensure the service providers are taken care of and heard from.
  2. Clearly establish roles at the beginning (amongst the founders). I surmise there might have been issues early on when one co-founder worked on the startup full-time while the other worked part-time. Though, I’m unsure what he meant by “roles” here. At least when it comes to duties, early employees (founders included) wear many hats. Instead, I believe he was referring to a hierarchy of sorts. In my experience with Body Boss, one of the lessons learned was the importance of some level of hierarchy to fall back on when decisions reached an impasse. The four of us co-founders had equal equity, equal authority, and without a clear leader, we could (and we did) spin our wheels on decisions that were evenly split.

It’s always great to hear about rapid growth companies, and learn from their founders.

What are your thoughts on ideas and innovations that must address two markets? What are your reservations about hierarchies vs. flatter organizations?

I received a question in response to last week’s post on Customer Discovery Surveys.

@TheDLu What’s your thought on split of digital vs verbal? There’s a LOT of value in in-person, but difficult to scale
— David Vandegrift (@DavidVandegrift) July 3, 2015

Fantastic question. My response:


@DavidVandegrift Great question! One I should tackle the next post, but in short, I’d say, “It depends”. #consultantAnswer. It’s about…

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) July 3, 2015

Digital surveys (SurveyMonkey, Google Apps, etc.) can be easily scaled and sent to a wide-range of audiences. Whereas, verbal surveys can be time intensive and expensive to scale – scheduling, logistics, etc.


As Don Pottinger, CTO of Kevy, points out, however: “[actual] conversations tend to go unexpected places and reap unexpected insights…something that is harder to do [with] digital.”

Assuming you get in front of the audience, thoughts on digital vs. verbal:

  • Depends on Phase of Customer Discovery. At the beginning, verbal is the quickest way to test and modify an initial hypothesis. As the pain-point and solutions become clearer, you may switch to digital for scale. Then, switching back to heavier verbal during solution build.
  • Consider who you are asking and your relationship. Do you know the audience or have the clout to motivate someone to take a digital survey? Or would verbal develop the relationship to get results? 
  • What’s the value of your offering? The higher the price of your offering, the more critical and appropriate it is for verbal communication. This is simply as sales cycles can be lengthy; thus, more involvement is required to foster trust and development.
Surveys are great direction tools, but not the end-all be-all. Mike Bivone (currently of Juice Analytics) recalls from his startups, “people often tell you one thing but behave completely differently.” At Body Boss, we built features given input from coaches that they would buy if said features were built. However, when we did build those features, coaches didn’t buy. Instead, we should have built lightweight versions and tested with prospects before full development.

Customer Surveys are another directional tool in your arsenal, but you never know till you make moves.


How do you mix verbal and digital customer discovery surveys? What are some tools and methods you’ve used to do customer discovery? How much do you trust survey results?

I wanted to write a post today about a question I received on Twitter in regards to Friday’s post on Customer Discovery surveys. However, it’ll take a bit more energy, and to be honest, I’m exhausted. I have no topic in mind, but it’s 8:46AM and I want to be consistent in pushing out a blog post today. So, this will likely be more of a “personal” post.

I’ve been chasing this entrepreneurial dream for several years now, pivoting on ideas, starting new ones, meeting boatloads of people, and I really start to realize how this is all part of a marathon of sprints.

I’m exhausted to the point where I’m so tired I’m actually dry-heaving. Yet, I push myself to get up after a few hours of “sleep” to get to the gym. Maybe I could delay that trip, but to me, it’s the challenge. Perhaps because certain people expect me to be there anyways. Perhaps because I expect myself to be there despite it all. But it’s all good to get some exercise in me.

I’m tired of eating peanut butter sandwiches everyday for lunch and two eggs for breakfast + protein shake. So bland… But it’s easy, and I don’t have to think about it.

Amy Cuddy gave that great TED Talk about “faking it till you become it”. I’m tired of faking it, too. I’m faking being an iOS and kinda-web developer. I’m faking being an expert in business development and sales. I’m faking the smile I wear everyday when I could more easily wear a tired, lethargic face. I’m weak at saying no because I want to build a vaster network and learn more, faster. I’m faking my confidence because I don’t know how to be both vulnerable and confident… to be someone others can rely on.

And with that, I get the occasional unsolicited advice to “be more extroverted” and go out late at night with friends, or comments on how plain my clothes are like I shop at Costco (haha!). But dang, at some point, everyone thinks the best way to give advice is to tell you what you should do. No one realizes that I’m tired of putting up impressions all the time, so to be myself and comfortable so I can achieve other things is my sanctity and sanity. No one realizes that I’m meeting so many people (familiar and new) during the week and during the day, that I crave the chance to recharge my batteries. I’ve actually found myself wanting to take pictures with others to post on Instagram just so others will see I am out and being extroverted.

My weekends are like my weekdays… my holidays are like non-holidays. I exercise. I work. I meet. Without a consistent workout schedule, I might not actually know what day it is.

It’s family and friends who tell me I’m crazy or I should quit and go back into consulting to earn a stable paycheck. Yeah… that gets tiring, too. But truth is, no one really knows how to respond to you if you were to be vulnerable and ask for help. When I do, either dropping breadcrumbs or explicitly saying, “help”, most don’t really know how to respond… only entrepreneurs understand entrepreneurs.

But you know what? It’s my fault. I chose this path because I want something greater. So even though I’m rambling and ranting about the hardship of getting out of bed or even staying upright, I want this. Or at least, I want what I hope this all leads to. I’m losing a lot of battles these days… a lot. I’m so fatigued, but I want to win the war. I’m zig-zagging through the obstacles and the people to get to the finish line, and one day look back at all this, smile, and say it was all worth it.

Not saying this happens to all entrepreneurs, but I can feel the pull to quit, and it’s not because things aren’t “working”. Instead, it’s the pull of being tired… mentally and emotionally. Financial stability is nice, but it’s the mental, emotional support and stability that I can feel need some serious rejuvenation.

So I broke (read: destroyed) my 300-word count blog post limit, but then again, this post is not a post about anything specific. It’s a personal post. But you know what? I’m tired, and this post continues my consistency, and it was easy to just let it flow. Just like my entrepreneurial endeavor, I have to do what keeps me going and just let myself flow.

And if you’re an entrepreneur who stumbles on this, and feel the same way, know that you’re not alone. You’re not the only crazy one who gets tossed around and beaten and still gets up for more. I’m with you. We’re all with you.

When I do customer discovery with surveys, I cover a wide range of topics. Oftentimes, I don’t have the luxury of going back to survey respondents. However, even with many objectives, I must be concise lest respondents abandon the survey.
Some objectives and flow of a survey:
  1. #1 objective: test hypotheses/ idea. Be focused on the idea and how ancillary questions are related. Don’t bake into the survey multiple ideas.
  2. Know the customer or find out who they are. If I don’t have background info of the respondents available, I ask about their backgrounds (occupation, responsibilities, etc.).
  3. Understand the customer –> plan the product roadmap.At the beginning, I don’t say anything about the idea. Instead, I broadly ask for the respondent’s processes and pain points. If the initial hypothesis is false, then the user may share the real problem (first pivot!). I progressively get more specific to the pain point.
  4. Any existing solutions today? That is, are respondents using a known competitor? Consider including an open-ended option in case it’s not listed. Test for likes/ dislikes.
  5. Introduce the idea and test for responses. Introduce the idea in a short description, then ask whether the respondent would use the product or service. Also, consider asking how much she would pay for a service as described to gauge price tolerance/ value opportunity.
  6. Understand the marketing logistics. How can I reach my audience? Are there key mediums they absorb information (blogs, magazines, etc.). The toughest part of startups is acquiring customers, so understanding ways to reach them effectively can be gold. I also ask about device usage to understand the technology stack (i.e. prioritization of builds).
  7. Thanks! Can we keep in touch? I always thank the respondent, and ask for contact info to keep in-the-know.
What are some questions that have been gold for your surveys? How would you build a strong customer discovery survey?