Episode 177: Danny Nathan – Lean Customer Development, Innovating & Building the Right Products

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In this engaging episode, host Matt sits down with Danny Nathan, the forward-thinking founder of Apollo 21. They delve into the world of product development, customer-centric innovation, and the significance of lean customer development. Danny shares his professional journey from the realm of traditional advertising to becoming a key player in the innovation sector, emphasizing the importance of building products that solve genuine customer problems.

Danny discusses the methodology behind Apollo 21’s success, highlighting the principle of “Crawl Walk Run” in product development. This approach emphasizes starting small, validating ideas through customer feedback, and gradually scaling to meet larger business goals. He also touches on how innovation shouldn’t just be about creating new things but also understanding and embedding meaningful changes within an organization’s culture and operations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Lean Customer Development: Begin the product development process by talking to customers to understand their pain points before building anything.
  • Crawl Walk Run: Start with the smallest thing that can be built to create value, then iterate and expand based on customer feedback.
  • Relentless Collaboration: Build strong trust-based relationships with clients to ensure successful partnerships and product outcomes.
  • Expect Clients to Outgrow You: Develop a mindset that allows clients to eventually internalize operations, fostering long-term trust and collaboration.
  • Focus on Solving Real Problems: Ensure that any product or innovation effort is centered around addressing genuine customer needs.

Danny Nathan

Danny Nathan is the founder of Apollo 21.

Danny has developed a habit of helping companies create new products & services and launch new ventures. In the past, he’s been called a product person, a UX guy, a designer, a strategist, a marketer, a creative (and a few other choice names like “The Cleaner”).

Today, Danny is the founder of Apollo 21, a company which sits at the intersection of a business consultancy, a product design studio, and a venture studio. Apollo 21 helps companies foster innovation, leverage venture-driven growth, and remove barriers to scale by building technology that solves complex business and operational challenges.


  • Introduction
    • Welcome and Introduction to Danny Nathan
    • Overview of Apollo 21 and its Mission
  • Danny's Professional Journey
    • Transition from Advertising to Entrepreneurship
    • Key Lessons Learned from Polk and Early Career
  • Core Principles of Apollo 21
    • Lean Customer Development: Engaging Customers Early
    • The “Crawl Walk Run” Methodology
    • Building Trust and Collaboration with Clients
  • Customer-Centric Development
    • Importance of Identifying Customer Pain Points
    • Strategies for Validating MVP Ideas
    • Real-world Examples and Case Studies
  • Innovation in Product Development
    • Partnering for Innovation
    • Creating Products that Solve Real Problems
    • Insights on Sustaining Innovation within Organizations
  • Practical Advice for Entrepreneurs
    • How to Talk to Customers Before You Have Customers
    • Leveraging Content for Customer Discovery
    • Building Long-term Client Relationships
  • Conclusion
    • Recap of Key Takeaways
    • How to Connect with Danny Nathan and Apollo 21

Click to See Episode Chapters and Timestamp

0:00Lean Customer Development and Discovering Growth Opportunities
3:35From Ad School to Entrepreneurship: A Journey of Innovation
11:40Taking a Stand in Business Decisions
14:51Building Trust and Collaboration in Client Relationships
22:57Customer-Centric Development Mitigates Risk and Accelerates Product Launch
26:31Talking to Customers Before You Have Customers
31:20Creating Products That Solve Problems Through Customer Feedback
39:20Creating a Mobile App to Connect Rodeo Athletes and Fans
41:47Partnering for Innovation and Problem-Solving in Product Development
47:41Innovative Networking and Building Products with Apollo 21
Matt Levenhagen
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