Customer Development

Customer Development

The Startup Leadership is a global not-for-profit educational program and network for aspiring founders and entrepreneurs. In London, the current 2018/2019 cohort covers a range of start-ups that lie between the ideation to growth stages, working in a range of sectors spanning healthcare, education, and finance. The course consists of six months of intensive peer-to-peer training, with fellows co-constructing and co-organising the classes. It was my responsibility to lead Class 4: Customer Development. This article is a personal reflection on the class and the learnings gained.

The class started as usual with a weekly update from each of the SLP fellows and book recommendations from the class leader. My book recommendations are Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine (link: and The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson (link: The former describes the ongoing problem of both conscious and unconscious gender bias that plays a huge role in early years development. The latter is an account of the cholera outbreak in London in 1854, centred around the Broad Street pump.

The class then continued with an introduction from the invited panel speakers. I would like to extend a huge thank you to Paul O’Byrne (Director of Operations, Feastly, Yvette Elkana, Managing Partner, Lemurpoint Solutions, and Alasdair Inglis CEO, Grow for giving their Monday evening (and preparation time!) to the SLP and for their valuable insights into aspects of customer development. There was a genuine buzz in the room as the SLP fellows questioned the panel on a range of topics, ranging from how to reach first users and how to hire sales and marketing experts in the early stages of a business. Alasdair Inglis shared an engaging sequence of marketing stories and tips gleaned from his experience of working with a wide range of small businesses, while Paul O'Byrne described the widely different cultures, processes, and resources available for marketing in a Startup compared to a large corporate environment. Yvette Elkana described her wide-ranging international experience within ICT corporations and technology-based start-ups, including her roles in international marketing and business development.

It seems that sales and marketing is full of adages and I wrote down some of my favourites that were mentioned during the class here (apologies for not having any of the original sources):

·         The fortune is in the follow-up

  • All customers are not equal
  • Marketing is both art and science
  • There are no silver bullets, just lots of lead bullets
  • People buy from people
  • It’s better to have 100 people who love your product than 1000 who are lukewarm about it

In the second part of the session, we broke up into small groups and each SLP fellow presented their business model canvas to one of the panellists for discussion, focusing particularly on customer relationships, customer segments, channels, and cost structure.

As course leader, I took a few personal learnings from this experience. I was delighted that I was able to bring three such talented, experienced, and busy people in to meet the SLP cohort and really engage with our business challenges across a wide range of sectors and stages. We could have done with a much longer class to cover customer development. It felt that each activity ended prematurely and if I was organising the class again, I would certainly go for a longer whole-group panel discussion.

I would like to also thank Steven Hess and Wenqian Chen for organising the program, and Steve Barnett at Shoosmiths for supporting SLP. Finally, thanks to the SLP fellows who make the course!

(From left to right) The invited panel: Paul O’Byrne, Yvette Elkana, and Alasdair Inglis, with SLP fellows Marco Filippi and Jay Bhadresha.

Alasdair Inglis talks about his sales and marketing experience, with Shalom Lloyd (in the foreground) and Steven Hess (right) listening

Even at the start of the class, I am wondering how we can finish on time!