Butterfly, Customer Development

Butterfly – Concept Development Philosophy


“Without collaboration there is no creation” Image from @gapingvoid

We are about 1 week out from launching our acquisition website for Butterfly as I write this post. The places that this journey has taken me over the past year have been incredible, and we are still just at the beginning.

The initial idea was to create an online platform for young people that would allow them to:

– create community projects in which they are interested
– recruit other young people to their project
– receive mentor support from community leaders
– request funds from interested donors

In the summer of 2013 we had the idea but also knew we needed to develop this concept differently than what we had done before. Typically with new product or services people do the following:


Standard Product Development

This is generally the accepted practice to product and service development and it happens all the time. It is wasteful, frustrating to work within, and upsets customers. So, instead of repeating this we decided to develop Butterfly in a different manner.

Drawing on “The Lean Startup” by Eric Reis and “The Startup Owner’s Manual” by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, as well as some hard lessons we had learned from our own experiences, we decided that we would go out and test our assumptions and hypotheses before building any product or solution. This overall product development approach is called “Customer Development”, it is kind of looks like this:


Approximation of Customer Development

In essence, you are incrementally testing and building upon what you learn through interactions with customers throughout the development of your product. What this means is that you get out of the building all of the time and learn. It is fundamentally a different philosophy than “big bang” product launches. It saves times and money, and you have a much better chance of solving the problems of your customers through this process.

We knew that for Butterfly to work we needed to go and talk to young people – not with a view to sell them on our concept, but instead to learn about their challenges and world. Inspired by Luke Hohmann and Innovation Games, and after a great phone call with Luke about our challenge, we settled on playing a sailboat game with young people could work.


Sailboat, drawn by Chris Loewen

How we would conduct the game is like this. I would say who I am, and what I was working on (“a thing where they could get other people to work on community projects with them and they could raise money on it”). The typical size of the overall group was 20, so we would break them into teams of 5. I would ask each team to draw a boat, saying that the boat represented an idea they have for their community. I would then ask them what the Anchors (barriers), Winds (enablers), and Islands (purposes) that are impacting their boat (ideas). From doing this with over 175 young people, we began to get a really good idea as to what service features (things that get rid of anchors and harness the winds) and benefits (the islands they want to get to). We ran the game with many young people from various backgrounds, and by and large they confirmed many of our hypotheses.


35 sailboats

This approach took tremendous amount of effort (over 8 months). More importantly, it took a leap of faith not only on our part, but also from Government Agencies, Schools, and Youth-Serving Agencies to allow us to work with their people and youth in developing the product in this way. However, all remain committed to the success of the initiative because it now, in large part, belongs to them as they have helped develop it to this point.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we are close to launching our acquisition website (UPDATE – website is now live and can be found here). This is to serve as version 1 of Butterfly to see if we can start connecting people with ideas to people who want to help. We do not yet have the full service solution automated, because we do not yet know what we need to build. To learn that we will be conducting pilot projects over the summer to see what other features we need to provide as youth, mentors, and donors engage with the service. However, we will be able to start connecting youth, mentors, and donors as a concierge service (i.e. me gluing these pieces together) until we build the rest. It’s going to be a busy and fantastic summer!

It’s confirming one learning at a time, building the feature, and repeating.





  1. Pingback: Butterfly – Initial Website | Protegra - June 9, 2014

  2. Pingback: A little story about a journey | Protegra - June 18, 2014

  3. Pingback: Startup Blues | Protegra - July 16, 2014

  4. Pingback: Two questions before we begin | Protegra - July 18, 2014

  5. Pingback: Customer development: engaging youth | Protegra - July 24, 2014

  6. Pingback: Talking to the “right” people | Protegra - July 30, 2014

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