Customer Development and Research

When Little Red Riding Hood Met the Wolf…

This is a tale about Little Red Riding Hood, a young brave Startupper who took a deep breath and decided to go into the deep forest, hoping to find the way to her family and dear friends, Grandma, the Mentors and the Investors.

She knows that she has to meet Wolf, the Customer on the road. She has to encounter him, face him and stare him in the eyes. She is a bit scared, because they have never met before, but she is also curious. She always heard that she has to ask questions and listen to others, so with slight anxiety, she steps into the woods…

The tale could end the well-known way, but this time, something changes (spoiler alert!): Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf become allies. How can that happen? Well, our young Startupper did her homework, read tales about others who suceeded (Hansel, Grete & Co.) and those who didn’t (poor Witch). She also listened to those who advised her to learn the Wolf-language and prepare for the encounter. She put her nicest smile on her face and forgot about all the stereotypes she had about the Wolf.

In one word, she learnt how to be a Little Red Customer Development Ninja. You can also turn into one. The first thing to achieve is to be able to blend in…

…the Forest: the place where Wolves live. It’s their natural habitat, whatever shape it may take: a tech meetup, a ruin pub, a posh café, an arts and crafts market or a busy office building. Sometimes they are in disguise, but the more you read about them in the Book of the Universe also known as World Wide Web by folks, the easier you gonna spot them and know where to look. (And what to look for – huge eyes, big ears, wide mouth, you know.)

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It is important to look around while you are there. Observing the details. Observing how Wolves live. How they act. Respecting their lifestyle but trying to get involved as much as you can. (Don’t pick flowers, but take notes of them.)

When you spot a Wolf, don’t let fear get a grip on you. You know you can talk to him. You prepared interesting questions and decided you gonna do it, right? Just walk up there and start talking. You don’t have to follow strict guides when you speak to Wolves, they love to chat (or howl) in a more informal way.


You just have to follow your intuitions. Try to get him engaged, sincere and open; if you spot a subtle spark in the Wolf’s eyes while talking to him, you know you got him – this is the point when exciting, valuable stuff is being said and it feels like as if you found truffles in the soil.

If the Wolf seems bored, distant or even slightly hungry, you can still show him…

…the Basket: your pack that is great for awakening interest and taming the Wolf. It may involve demonstration of your MVP during the talk, some screen shots, video or even a real prototype. There may also be a small incentive hiding at the bottom of your Basket,  a special invitation, priority option, voucher etc., depending on your opportunities (and how caring your Mom was when packing). It is better to find Wolves who are genuinely interested in you and the talk, but to be fair, Wolves’ time is also limited and sometimes it can help to pep up the time spent together.

Hopefully, the Wolf starts wagging his tail and finds your Concept Cold Cutlets tasty. You have to be careful: not all Wolves are being honest; you have to focus on those who are not just trying to come up to your expectations and answer the way they feel they are obliged to – it is hard to spot these Wolves, but just listen to your sixth sense and interpersonal skills.

It also depends on you: you have to ask open questions and don’t try to bias Wolves or put pressure on them. If they feel you are acting like a dominant Hunter that only wants to hear what he thinks, you are lost.  

If you follow these friendly guidelines, it is likely that the tale will end well. You might find your Wolf in the pack; you know, not all the Wolves out there are meant for you, but the harder you try, the more skillful Little Red Customer Development Ninja you gonna be.


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