Entrepreneurship, Innovation, STEM

Know Pain, Know Gain: The Joy of Customer Discovery in a Lean Startup

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps for STEM Learning (I-Corps L) workshop in San Francisco to learn about the pains and gains associated with Customer Discovery in a Lean Startup. We followed Steve Blank’s advice to “Get out of the Building” to talk to potential future customer’s of our product, a low-cost humanoid robot for STEM and CS learning. We were able to talk to customer’s that included venture capitalists, entrepreneurs that are already attracting more than 10 million customers to their site, professors and graduate students at Stanford, STEM specialists at Berkeley, teachers at continuation, or alternative, and charter schools in Berkeley, Palo Alto, and Oakland.

With each interview of a “customer” we find out the pains that the customer’s are experiencing in trying to teach science, technology, engineering, and math in a variety of teaching environments including online learning.  We were able to mine the wealth of knowledge these educators and entrepreneurs have amassed as they follow their passion to teach STEM.  Once again, we were able to see that anyone can “belong” in technology as we interviewed people from different genders and backgrounds.  We are looking for common pains that these people are experiences and what kinds of gains they might be able to experience using our product.

This approach of understanding the potential customer’s pains is counter to the traditional engineer’s perspective of building a product with as many bells and whistles as possible and expecting someone to buy it.  Also, this approach allows us to iteratively test and discover various hypotheses that make up our Business Model Canvas.  I am grateful to NSF for providing this hands on education to university professors so that we can in turn use it to provide educational innovations that can have a lasting impact on our society and economy.

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is a humanoid robotics and AI professor at Marquette University. His recent TEDx talk, Belonging in Technology, What I learned from Steve Jobs, addresses creativity and its relationship to innovation, diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Dr. Williams is the author of, “Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives”.


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