Lean Canvas—Clarity About Customer Segments and Early Adopters

Here is a Google doc of the Lean Canvas you can use for yourself or to play along at home.

Ash Maurya is one bright guy. I don’t know him, but his work is smart and useful. His blog—Practice Trumps Theory—is a great resource for entrepreneurs. His gifts to the entrepreneurial world include the Lean Canvas and his book Running Lean.

Image courtesy of ratch0013/ FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

Image courtesy of ratch0013/ FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

As I mentioned in a previous post, Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas is one of the go-to resources of the Startup World. Championed by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf in their Startup Owner’s Manual, the business model canvas turns 9 boxes into a way of presenting and digging into just about any business model. One of the foundational concepts of the Business Model Canvas is being aware of and taking action to determine and mitigate risk. 

Ash Maurya takes those nine boxes and changes them up a little bit. His adaptations focus on areas of highest risk. In a way, he’s created a tool that says “PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THESE THINGS! THEY MIGHT KILL YOUR BUSINESS!”

I’m exaggerating a little bit, but not much.

And what are the first two boxes you should be paying attention to? Customer Segments and Problem Statements.

Customers are the people that pay for your service. Sometimes that means “users,” but sometimes it doesn’t. You need to be aware of both customers and users, but don’t confuse one for the other.

Once you have a broad idea of people you want to serve, you need to create a list of possible customers within that list. For example, if you wanted to create a business to help the unemployed and underemployed, it would be helpful to pick a subset of the unemployed. “Everyone” is too large a group, too diverse. So you might break it down into smaller groups. People that took early retirement. People that were laid off. Baby Boomers. People over 60. Whatever the segment, it should be large enough to make the business sustainable, but narrow enough to be able to meet their specific needs.

Once you’ve identified your Customer Segments, you need to determine your early adopters. Who needs your help the most? In the example above, perhaps the people who need your help the most are people over 60 who have worked in areas which did not require special certifications or licensure (e.g. CPA’s, attorneys, etc.)—because they’re likely to have greater challenges when returning to the workplace.

You could further narrow your early adopters to people who worked in manufacturing (e.g. auto plants) and took early retirement, assuming that their pensions would secure their future. Now they find their pensions have been threatened, reduced, or taken away altogether, and they are having to reenter the job force.

Let’s make one up. Bill Johnson is a 65 year old man living in Arlington, TX. He worked on the line building Chevy Suburbans at the GM assembly plant in Arlington until 2007, when he took early retirement. He’s worked hard all his life, standing 8-10 hours a day while on the line. He had some savings, had his health insurance paid for until he became eligible for Medicare, had his retirement package and his pension coming. That was all before the Great Recession. Bill is our early adopter.

Now people have broken their promises to Bill, and he has to get a job. He’s got a wife, a mortgage, a car payment, and medical bills. He’s not exactly sure where or how to look. The Ft. Worth Star Telegram‘s want ads aren’t what they used to be, and there’s so much stuff on the internet it’s all one confusing, depressing blur.

Your homework: Think about your customer segments. Who is your customer? Who is your early adopter? Who can you help the most? Tomorrow we’ll talk more specifically about what your early adopter’s problems are, and how you are going to help.