JEDC Innovation Summit: Customer Discovery Workshop and Innovation Shorts

Richelle Johnson, Lead Analyst

Four faces of discovery at the Customer Discovery workshop.

Four faces of discovery at the Customer Discovery workshop.

From our recent blog posts, many probably already know that CED started a book club this year. The first book on our list, The Mom Test, caught our attention in a big way. It made us really examine how the premise of the book -- how to ask the right questions to get the answers you need and not the answers you want -- aligns with our mission.

Customer discovery is critical to business owners at every stage. When we talk to entrepreneurs and business owners across the state the trend that emerges is that the customer discovery process is hard and it's something that almost everyone struggles with, if they’re doing it at all.

So that left us with a question. What would it look like to integrate our learnings from The Mom Test into a workshop? We decided to give it a try at the Juneau Economic Development Council’s 2019 Innovation Summit, and led a customer discovery workshop.  Here’s what it looked like!

1. How do You Fit Everything Into 60 Minutes?!

We went through several iterations of planning when we were coordinating the workshop. Our main concern was “How do we teach a complex topic to a large group of people in the small amount of time we have?” The answer we eventually reached was to keep it as simple as possible: focus on leading a discussion about how to ask questions that get answers of substance.

How did we do that? We made the participants try it themselves by putting them in the shoes of the business owner. Participants sat down and thought of questions they would ask if they were a business owner. Then we discussed how different questions elicit different responses.

While the concept seems easy to grasp, in practice it’s much more difficult. The idea is that, generally speaking, people are lying to you. They’re much more likely to tell you your ideas are good, or they’ll buy your product, than give you an honest answer. But people are more likely to talk about themselves and tell you about their experiences so if you approach customer discovery from that angle you’ll be rewarded with textured and truthful information.

2. Thinking About Design Thinking!

Sticky notes! Big ones! Little ones! As with many of CED’s workshops, the building blocks of our Innovation Summit workshop were design thinking practices. Workshopping ideas, discussing and grouping potential questions, practicing in mock interviews helps attendees learn the concepts we’re teaching in an interactive, experiential environment, and empathy always. As our lead facilitator, the wonderful Julia says, try first and then discuss!

3. Something Smells Fishy Here...

We partnered with the Alaska Ocean Cluster to feature a locally made ocean product as an example business for workshop participants. The business featured was Saltwood Smokehouse from Seward. They make locally sourced fish dips and spreads like Smoked Black Cod Dip and Black Cod Schmear. YUM!

The fact that we were able to showcase a real business was an asset for multiple reasons. It meant that our workshop participants had a product to frame questions for potential customers and a real business was able to benefit from the ideas, interviews, and discussions that took place.

4.  I Like, I Wish.

As always, CED asked for feedback to help evaluate the workshop. “I like…” comments included appreciation for the overall experience, concept of customer discover, the organization and planning of the experience, and the fact that we used a real product. On the “I Wish…” side of things, feedback ranged from funny -- “What is schmear” and “More unicorns!” -- to tips for next time like “More time to discuss” and a request for a “Key things to remember handout.”

Overall, we were really happy with the workshop outcomes, and will be offering more opportunities to learn about customer discovery in the future!

Just One Piece of the CED Pie

The Customer Discovery Workshop was just one component of CED’s showing for the Innovation Summit. Nolan shared findings from our recently released Outdoor Recreation in Alaska: Impacts and Opportunities and was part of the “Ocean is Blue” panel. Many of us also participated in the Innovation Shorts. Here were our presenters and their topics:

  • Gretchen - Optimizing Your Future Self

  • Julia - The Best Future Needs Equitable Entrepreneurship

  • Richelle - Outdoor Recreation and the Outdoor Products Industry in Alaska

  • Nolan - The Emerging Sectors of Alaska

If you’re curious about some of the topics presented check out our website here for CED’s services and our recent work. We’re already counting down to the 2020 Innovation Summit - thank you to JEDC for inviting us to be part of such an inspiring two days!