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Customer Discovery in Action

March 3, 2016

· 4 min read
Elemental Excelerator

4-minute read

How 2 Energy Excelerator companies are incorporating customer discovery into their go-to-market strategy

Our Go-to-market Track is designed to vet and validate your core business model to ensure that it is aligned with a particular market and a targeted set of customers, and customer discovery is at the core of it all. Why do we believe whole-heartedly in customer discovery? Spending the time to challenge every aspect of your business upfront will save you from spending time chasing after something that isn’t there.

Here is an example of how two of our companies have utilized this process to inform and enhance their go-to-market and fundraising strategies. There are many resources available on how to conduct customer discovery, so we won’t go deep into that in this blog post (I have included a few of our favorites below).

Energy Excelerator applications open on April 25th. One of the documents we ask for from companies selected into our second round of due diligence, Financial and Technical Review, is an outline of their customer discovery work to date. This information is essential to determine if companies are ready for our Demonstration Track. It is one of the primary ways that we assess customer pull for your solution.

Autowatts: Customer Discovery Leads to a Pivot

Autowatts has built an online platform that allows homeowners to skip the solar sales pitch and go solar online in just minutes.


Autowatts entered Energy Excelerator’s 2014 Go-to-Market Track with a platform that allowed anyone to sell solar, seeking validation on who the right customer was. Their initial target market was car salesmen. They believed there was a strong correlation between the electric vehicle buyer and the rooftop solar buyer…PV for your EV.

Autowatts tested their assumption at auto shows and dealerships, and with finance partners and solar installers. It turned out that car salesmen abide to a defined sales process. Adding a new element to that process, despite the simplicity of their platform, led to a low adoption rate. The company also came to the conclusion that their platform could be utilized outside of auto dealerships.

With that feedback and maturity in the solar market, Autowatts pivoted to offer a platform that allows anyone to buy solar in just minutes. Alex Tiller, CEO of Autowatts and former CEO of Hawaii’s largest solar company, Sunetric, knew how labor added to the cost of a solar system and the time it takes a customer to arrive at a purchasing decision. Their platform significantly reduces those costs, producing a proposal in minutes.

Today, Autowatts is a part of our 2016 Go-to-market cohort vetting a new value proposition for a new customer. If you have 50 seconds, contribute to Autowatts’ go-to-market strategy by completing this survey.

Autowatts CEO, Alex Tiller, pitching at Energy Excelerator Interactive at Google[x]

FreeWire: Customer Discovery to Create a Playbook

FreeWire is developing a scalable solution to address the challenges of large-scale electric vehicle (EV) charging deployments by building mobile energy storage systems that can deliver power where and when it’s needed.


FreeWire emerged out of the lean startup methodology, where customer discovery is an integral and continuous part of the process. They conducted over 120 interviews during the 3-month Lean Launchpad Program at UC-Berkeley, and a total of over 300 interviews since inception.

FreeWire incorporates as much feedback as possible from customers to ensure their business model fits its customers’ needs. This led to a pilot and subsequent commercial deployment with LinkedIn and attracted partnerships from key stakeholders such as Siemens and Autodesk.

As the company enters new markets, the first step is always customer discovery. FreeWire is a part of Energy Excelerator’s 2015 Demonstration Track and did a great job utilizing their Kickoff Week and the months following to conduct customer discovery in Hawaii. We arranged meetings with the utility, energy service providers, auto dealerships, the military, and business owners to collect meaningful data points. These data points are being used to develop their Hawaii Go-To-Market Strategy, which will then be replicated and scaled to other markets.

Through our Demonstration Track, FreeWire will deploy an advanced network of mobile EV charging stations coupled with energy storage and grid integration in Hawaii. Stay tuned for project details…

Customer discovery resources:
Steve Blank’s customer discovery blog feed
The Lean Launchpad on Udacity (a free online course taught by Steve Blank)