Expert Insights: Rachel Tan on Customer Development

We are back again with our next article in the Expert Insights series where we interview the different speakers from the Rainmaking Expand: South Korea program on their field of expertise.

This week, we sit down with Rachel Tan, Venture Architect at Rainmaking to share her insights on Customer Development.

Thank you so much for joining us on the Rainmaking Expand program, as well as in this Expert Insights series. Shall we start off this conversation with an introduction?

Rachel: Hi, I’m Rachel and I’m a Venture Architect at Rainmaking, where my role is to act as an interim founder as we build new ventures with corporate partners. I fell into the startup ecosystem by accident to be honest, after deciding to explore it for my last summer internship before I graduated. I loved having the opportunity to look at a variety of trend developments and how it has shaped and could shape the way consumers interact and decided that I wanted to do it full-time.

Prior to Rainmaking, I was involved in the more inspirational aspects of corporate innovation, developing tech trend reports for businesses; organizing cross-industry advisory boards and conducting innovation tours to startup ecosystems across APAC. It sparked in me the value of insights that you could leverage from different businesses and the opportunities it could create for customers and stakeholders in a completely different industry. Coming from a more B2C background, leveraging that experience into identifying and building new opportunities for our B2B partners is what’s so exciting about my role and keeps me coming back for more.

That’s really exciting and very valuable. I know I have definitely benefited in the past from your insights, and your workshop in our South Korea program has been incredible to guide the companies attending. From your perspective, what do you think are some of the biggest mistakes companies make when scaling, and how do you recommend they avoid it?

Rachel: “Scale fast” I think is a term that is commonly mentioned as a strategy for startups to pursue but that could be a massive drain on a startup’s limited resources of funding, team and time if the purpose has not been well-defined. It could become an expensive lesson for a startup to learn whilst failing to advance its value to customers. As valuable as “scaling fast” can be, startups should prioritize “scaling smart” most of all.

What do I mean by “scaling smart”?

For startups, when you commit to scaling, it should mean that you already have elements like:

  • customers who have purchased your solution
  • an integrated operating model that has gone live in the market
  • validated unit economics

This is so that you have a refined offering to take to customers and can develop a replicable expansion strategy for execution outside your home market without duplicating efforts and costs for the same learnings in different markets.

Absolutely, knowing when to scale is an incredible valuable skill (see our article on e27 highlighting 5 signs a company is ready to scale). In your workshop for the Rainmaking Expand program, you dove into the key advice and strategy around customer development. What would be your advice for the readers here on this topic?

Rachel: That would be:

1. Understand who you’re going after and why

What are the customer personas that you want to focus on for the market and what’s the underlying reason that you’re prioritizing them (e.g. is it because they’re easier to reach, more capable to pay, etc.)

This helps you to structure and build stronger assumptions that you can use to test in the market to strengthen the learnings that you already have as you build on your pathway to scale in a new market. (See our interview with Cindy on advice on experimentation)

2. Track your assumptions and practice “So What’s”

With the assumptions that you build, it’s also important to process the learnings and use them to guide further development.

Here, it’s super valuable to understand and track what you’ve done in the market. Going back to the assumptions, review the experiments that you’ve conducted to see what are the observations that have been made about the market.

In terms of “So What”, consider how these observations and insights might require you to adapt your messaging to customers or prompt potential reviews of your pricing strategy, etc. and help you build up your strategy for expansion in the new market.

3. Engage your customers more personally

As much as we might deal with customers directly or indirectly, it’s also important in the customer development phase to understand what the individual that you’re speaking with cares about. Going back to a workplace venture that we helped to build, we found that we could accelerate the conversation to bring in key stakeholders if we could identify an alignment with their personal beliefs. With these stakeholders now in a position where their personal beliefs (”wanting to have a more sustainable world”) aligned well with the venture’s proposition (”championing sustainability for their organization”) we were able to see greater progress on initial sales conversations.

Thank you so much Rachel for all your insights, it has been really valuable.

Read more in our Expert Insights Series

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Written by
Meghan Bridges
August 9, 2022
Marketing Director, Rainmaking Expand