You know you’ve got a hit on your hands when your customers are doing your customer development for you.My friend Ryan Graves is a big Foursquare fan.  So much so that he’s taken on a little experiment.  He’s been going around to bars and restaurants and selling them Foursquare.  The kicker is that Ryan doesn’t work for Foursquare.He’ll walk into a restaurant, try to find the right person to talk to and then tell them why they should be using the service to reach their customers.  Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t.  But he keeps going on to the next one and repeating the process.  For Ryan, he’s getting some good sales experience, but for Foursquare, they’ve got something really interesting going on.Ryan’s been blogging his experiences selling Foursquare.  In a post about a week ago, he writes about what would Foursquare be learning if they had sales reps.  And not just if they had sales reps, but if they had the feedback loops in place to collect the information the sales reps were funneling back and analyze it.  He lays out some of the reactions from businesses that could help Foursquare target their products to their customers better.  In a post yesterday, Ryan takes some of that feedback and translates it into some ideas for Foursquare.  If Ryan worked for Foursquare, he’d be providing some really good information back to the team to make decisions based on facts.In Eric Ries’s post linked above, he points out that the most important part of customer development is getting out of the building.  The father of customer development, Steve Blank, says, “In a startup no facts exist inside the building, only opinions.”  But when you have a team of three, it’s hard to get out of the building.  Foursquare has a random guy in Chicago doing this work for them!What I find interesting about this is not the conclusions that Ryan draws, but the fact that he’s doing this at all.  He explains that he doesn’t work for them, but is a huge fan of what they do.  The experiment is something he’s doing entirely on his own.If I was Foursquare, I’d find Ryan and talk to him and I’d ask him three things…

  1. Why are you doing this?
  2. What are our customers saying to you?
  3. What would you do based on that feedback?

If your product has fans that are doing your customer development work for you, how can you find those fans and how can you learn from them?  The first step is to listen.  Read the blogs that people write about you.  Read the tweets.  Find the reviews on places like Wakoopa or Oneforty.  Then reach out and start asking questions.The case of Ryan doing actually legwork, for free, for a product he really loves is probably exceptional.  But it happens every day for every product.  Find these people, listen to them, and most importantly, encourage them.  If I was Foursquare, there’d be a t-shirt and a thank you note in the mail already.  Plus maybe a plane ticket and an invitation to interview for a job.

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