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Ask HN: Customer Development? Really?
5 points by smartial_arts 1829 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 5 comments

I might be splitting hairs in here. So if you're in a rush please feel free to skip this question. I just need to let it out.


When I heard the phrase "Customer Development" first, I thought that it's some sort of technique of "developing" customers, i.e. changing, converting existing people's behaviours into those that you need for your business, akin to "software development".

I quickly discovered that it's actually a development of your understanding of customers' needs, or as Wikipedia puts it:

"The concept details a scientific approach that can be applied by startups and entrepreneurs to improve their products’ success by developing a better understanding of their consumers."

Yet when I encounter this phrase in text anywhere I have to make this conscious effort to go from initial understanding of it to the right one.

Admittedly English is not my native language (although I've been living in an English-speaking country for few years now) and this could've influenced the problem.

Although I wonder: does it sound a bit strange to any of you or you have no problems with it, no cognitive frictions, so to speak?


The term "Customer Development" is really only one highly specific methodology for understanding your users' reactions to an existing product. It's an awkward phrase, and kind of a backwards approach to innovation (try starting with identifying an actual user problem that needs solving, not just throwing technology against the wall to see if it sticks). Depending on where you are in the development process, there are a number of ways for you to understand your users' upfront needs and how they are interacting with or want to interact with your product/category. Feel free to reach out if you're looking for actual guidance on understanding why and how people use your product. http://uxhours.com/

I think the issue is that you're thinking of the customer as being a person, who you move along the sales process.

think of "Customer" in this context as being Customer with a Capital "C". The General idea of customers.

As in, "Who's your Customer". In this case it's almost interchangable with "Market".

What you're developing is who the customer of your product is. You're making a model of what the customer is like, what they want, and why. And you're manipulating that model as you learn more things about real people who might actually be a customer of your company later on.

Think of it as Developing the Customer section of your [business plan](http://www.ashmaurya.com/2010/08/businessmodelcanvas/)

This phrase is part of the specialized jargon of a particular field. It doesn't matter what it sounds like to someone not in the field; they never use it. And it doesn't matter what one might think it means; the people who use it need to learn what it means.

Similarly, "resistance" in electronics and "bond" in chemistry and "pitcher" in baseball and "election" in the politics of a democracy, etc., etc., have specialized meanings.

That said, as a native speaker of English, I find that most business jargon sounds inane. And "customer development" is no exception.

It's the "learning" part that I had problems with. It just wasn't immediately intuitive that subject (customer) is being studied, not manipulated (i.e. "developed").

Those ones that you outlined - resistance and bond in particular - can be directly related to the phenomena they describe.

With customer development, well at least for me, it's a two step process, very much akin to working with a clunky UI - "no, don't click here, it's actually not a button, scroll down here and then click".

Good point. I guess I went too far. The usual meaning of "bond" (say) is not irrelevant. Some other word ("llama"?) could have been used, but wasn't, and for good reason.

So we can add "customer development" to the list of terminology that does not fit the concept it describes. It joins many previous entries, including "vitamin", "malaria", "tree shrew", "lunar maria", and "resource acquisition is initialization".

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