Lean Canvas—Don’t Turn Your Business into a Swiss Army Knife

Now that you have clarity about your customers and their problems, you get to focus on creating a solution. Since you probably had a “solution” in mind before you started this process, let’s look closely to make sure it’s reasonable considering your customers and their problems.

Image courtesy of posterize/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of posterize/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To do that, we’ll take another look at Bill Johnson (whom we discussed here and here). He’s the retired auto worker who has to get back into the workforce, and he’s having trouble. Specifically,

  1. Bill doesn’t know how to find the contact information for the appropriate person with hiring authority.
  2. Bill doesn’t know how to get over or around the road blocks employers set up to thwart job seekers from contacting them directly.
  3. Bill doesn’t know how to communicate the value that he offers a potential employer.

There are lots of ways you could design a company to help Bill. You could create a one-on-one in person coaching program. You could design a virtual group coaching program. You could create a Udemy course to teach him what he needs to know. You could write an ebook. You could create an app or a membership site. You may try all of them eventually, but you have to start somewhere.

Here’s where entrepreneurs get into trouble. Most entrepreneurs envision a solution and begin to construct a product to deliver their solution. They ponder their product, dream about their product, talk about their product. And as they do, they start to think, “Wouldn’t it be nice if…”

Let’s say I want to construct a virtual group coaching program to help people like Bill. I can conduct my meetings for free using Google Hangouts or Skype. But it’d be nice if I could integrate a transcription service into the virtual meeting platform—one that could automatically email meeting notes to everyone after our virtual get-togethers. It would also be kind of cool if I could integrate my virtual meeting platform with monster.com, the local newspaper want ads, etc.. That way we could take a look at real-time classified ads and talk about overcoming the hurdles that thwart job seekers. And it be awesome if we were able to integrate LinkedIn to our virtual meeting platform…

You see what’s happening? Feature creep. We confuse what would be nice to have with what we need to have. What we need to produce, at least early on, is what is referred to in the startup world as a “minimum viable product.” That is the smallest product that will deliver value to your customer, something that they are willing to buy.

Would someone invest in my virtual coaching program if I just used Google Hangouts or Skype without integrating monster.com or LinkedIn.com, or without the transcription and email service? If so, then I shouldn’t go chasing the other stuff.

When I want to buy a pocket knife, most of the time what I really want is a good blade. It’s fun to have the corkscrew, the leather punch, the tiny magnifying glass I can get with a Swiss Army Knife, but do I really need those features to buy the knife? Almost always, the answer is “no.”

At this stage in the game, don’t turn your business into a Swiss Army Knife. As an entrepreneur, your job is to focus on that one blade, the blade you’re going to sell, and refine it until people will invest. When you do, you will save an enormous amount of time, money and emotional capital. It’s hard to believe but true: you will invest your emotional capital in your solution. And even if you recognize you’ve built a feature no one wants, it will be hard for you to let go of it. Better to avoid the Swiss Army Knife Syndrome altogether.

So here’s my question for you: given what you know about your potential customers and their problems, what’s the minimum product or service you can produce to turn your prospects into customers? Not that you will always choose to do the minimum, but that’s where you should start.

Bonus: Once you’ve started, you’ll get to know your actual customers well enough so that you won’t waste as much time on a bunch of nonsense they don’t want anyway.