Mistakes Founders Make: Falling Into The ‘One-Lead-User’ Trap

5th May 2020

There aren’t many entrepreneurs out there who become entrepreneurs just by 'wanting' to be an entrepreneur. Let alone be successful.

Successful entrepreneurs mostly start off by dreaming: they find themselves asking questions like "What if...", which leads to ideas popping up. And most of them will tell you that they attribute the identification of that first business idea to their experience in a particular industry or market.

Which makes absolute sense. Because when you think about it, how many times have you said to yourself: “Why isn’t this possible”? Or: “I wish X would exist, this would help me so much” or “If this product would do X, I’d use it”.

Many entrepreneurs get their ideas from observations and conversations that uncover a problem or pain point in a market they are familiar with. Many startups are all about making something easier, faster, better, more accessible, cheaper,...

But experiencing a gap in the market, doesn’t always mean it can be turned into a business. Creating a sustainable business means: finding a multitude of users who need your product or service.

That’s why you have to make sure that you avoid the ‘one-lead-user’ trap.

The one-lead-user problem and its repercussions

In the best case scenario, the 'one-lead-user problem' results in some lost time and energy. In the worst case scenario on the other hand, it could potentially lead to a waste of precious money and resources.

The one-lead-user problem occurs in cases where entrepreneurs focus on one specific end user - not even a specific client group, just one individual - and assuming this person is representative for a whole target group.

Oftentimes this represents a single peculiar individual person. Which in itself isn’t really a problem though; the real danger here lies in extrapolating the needs and wants of this one person to a whole group, without validating this 'perceived truth'.

For example, Patient Communicator’s founder Meir Goodman discovered that he was undermining his startup’s own potential by focusing too hard on a single end-user, in his case his father.

“Patient Communicator (PC) began as a product for my father’s medical practice. I remember constantly asking my father over the 2 years of iterative development: “Dad, is feature xyz something that other doctors would want in their office? Is this something other doctors have to deal with?”. The answer was usually yes, and this fueled my thinking that what we were building would be of interest to many.”

“Meanwhile, I never really spent time pitching to other doctors to see if anyone would pull the trigger and use PC.”

“Plain and simple, I never assessed the market need for a patient portal... thus I learned that it’s extraordinarily difficult to take a product that was built perfectly for one particular user, and commercialize that to a broader market.”

How to avoid the one-lead-user trap

While Patient Communicator’s founder built his tool for someone else, real life experience shows us that in many cases entrepreneurs start from their own experience, turning themselves into their one lead user.

Solving ones own problem is a tactic that gave rise to a lot of famous startups like Airbnb and Uber and can be a strong driver for the entrepreneur him- or herself, but it is extremely important to verify the problems you experience with the outside world.

The danger for those entrepreneurs who hold tight to their own experiences, is that they start building a tool that is a perfect fit to fill the needs and problems in their context. Because their needs aren’t always necessarily the same needs as other individuals in the same client segment have, building a scalable business model might be hard. Or sometimes even impossible, if you’re too stuck up in your own thoughts.

That’s why it’s a must for you as an entrepreneur to start exploring your client segment early on in the building process, to map your assumptions (hint: everything you think you know without clear proof is an assumption) and start validating those assumptions as soon as possible.

If you experience the problem yourself, research if a substantial amount of people, potential clients, share the same issues. With that knowledge, you will then be able to fine-tune your offering and start testing if those people are also willing to buy.

Never assume, and always validate. That’s the key.

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