CHAPTER 2The Path to Epiphany: The Customer Development Model

How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:14

THE FURNITURE BUSINESS DOES NOT STRIKE many people as ripe for innovation. Yet during the halcyon days of dot-com companies (when venture capitalists could not shovel money out the door fast enough), the online furnishing market spawned a series of high-profile companies such as and Operating on the James Dean School of Management (living fast and dying young), companies like these quickly garnered millions of dollars of investors’ capital and just as swiftly flamed out. Meanwhile, a very different startup by the name of Design Within Reach began building its business a brick at a time. What happened, and why, is instructive.

At a time when the furniture dot-coms were still rolling in investor money, the founder of Design Within Reach, Rob Forbes, approached me to help the company get funding. Rob's goal was to build a catalog business providing easy access to well-designed furniture frequently found only in designer showrooms. In his 20 years of working as a professional office designer, he realized one of the big problems in the furniture industry for design professionals and businesses such as hotels and restaurants was that high-quality designer furniture took four months to ship. Customers repeatedly told Rob, “I wish I could buy great-looking furniture without having to wait ...

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