This post is one part of a 7 part bootstrapping guide from Amy and Alex. This is part 5 of 7. Want to get the rest of them? Get the guide here!

Now, on to part 5 – why even hearing the word “customer interviews” make Amy want to hurl.

Let me tell you a not-so-secret:

I’m a delicate (if foul-mouthed) little snowflake. Wanna make me feel nauseous with just a word? Dress up as a clown or send me a video clip of The Muppets. Or just whisper in my ear:

pivot growth hacker lean validation… or the latest addition, “customer interview” Uggggggh.

The more craziness and failure and repetition I see alongside a given word, the more physically ill it actually makes me. Yes, yes, I know, totally fucking precious, but it’s a fact. Hang out with me and you will hear “that makes me nauseous” way more than is statistically probable.

And lots of people have been talking to me lately about Customer Interviews and it’s driving me crazy, because it’s an idea that has grabbed tremendous mindshare and yet it is also COMPLETE BULLSHIT.

Here’s why Customer Interviews are good for nothing except increasing my Pepto Bismol intake:

They’re called ‘customer interviews’ but the actual approach is to interview people who have not yet given you money, and are ergo not customers, but maybe, maybe potential customers. They’ve got no skin in the game, no frame of reference to build on.

You rely on your interviewees being experts at research & development — you trust them to identify their own pains with unflinching honesty and accuracy. To remember, in essence, exactly what they do, all day, every day.

And to be willing to tell you about it.

And to be able to imagine a world unlike the world they inhabit, with a different workflow, different tools, different outlook, different life.

You rely on them to accurately identify the causes of the pains they do identify.

You rely on them to be wholly rational.

They must not care about your feelings at all — to not be, in fact, the kindly people they must be to accept your interview request — because they will be too friendly, too supportive, too optimistic, too nice… which of course results in worthless data.

You need them to be people who always do exactly what they say they will.

In short, you need Magical Super Business Princes and Princesses. They have to be able to feel the pea from beneath 7 downy mattresses, and be able to extemporize eloquent treatises on the subject, AND also not give a shit about hard-wired pro-social human behavior.

I may be a snowflake, but that, my friends, is a unicorn.

PS: Unicorns aren’t real.

The ugly narwhal reality (narwhality) is…

Almost all productive people are far too busy to remember everything they do each day because they’re Getting Shit Done. Almost all people are numb to their own pain. Their most dangerous problems aren’t the minor irritations that sting, but the dark shadows that lurk below the surface, unsaid, unnoticed, unmanaged. And while many people will say, “Sure, I’d pay for that” — few will do it. Even if you ask for money right then [a popular revision to the Customer Interview approach], they may cut you a small check out of awkwardness and — this is key — because you’re in the room with them, they actually believe in it.

But when you’re gone… the subtle web of social obligation and self-deception is gone, too.

So: People are locked into their existing reality, they can’t accurately identify their pains, or their cause — or when they do, they identify minor irritations and not bigger problems… AND you can’t trust what they say.

This, my friends, is why the smartest business minds have said:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford

“It’s not the consumers’ job to figure out what they want.” — Steve Jobs

“A public-opinion poll is no substitute for thought.” — Warren Buffett

And it’s also why, when research psychologists design an experiment, they almost always hide the note-taker, the measuring equipment, and sometimes just leave a person in a room, alone:

If you want to know what a person really values, what they really suffer, what they really do, what they really pay for… don’t listen to their words, observe their actions.

That, by the by, is the field of ethnography: Watching how people use tools and processes and how they interact. (Watching, not asking. When you ask, you risk a Margaret Mead.)

Ethnography is the foundation for Sales Safari, the boring-but-amazingly-effective customer research approach Alex and I have designed.


This is a long email, I know. And a lot of the emails I’ve been sending you (including this one) are about Why X Doesn’t Work, not how to do it the right way.

Well, this one’s about Why Customer Interviews Don’t Work… and it’s also about how to do it the right way.

I’m about to link you to a video that will show you how to start doing things the right way.

This video is a bit old, and outdated. (That’s why I’m giving it away.) Since then, we’ve made Sales Safari a million times more concrete, step-by-step, and systematic. Based on what we saw our students do when we watched them use the old process.

But, even though it’s a bit outdated, the research process shown in this video is already eons ahead of “ask them.”

Give it a watch and reply to let me know what you think!

Yours, in pepto pink,


PS — This next bit won’t make much sense until after you watch the video above, so go ahead and click that link, then come back.

… … …

Fact: There are candles that are safe from cats. They’re remote controlled, battery operated, flickering LED candles. They look almost perfectly real, they cost $30 each, and I own 8 of them (along with 3 cats).

This shit WORKS.