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Yep, it is extremely hard. Lean Startup makes it sound trivial when it's almost impossible. Almost nobody is going to clear up their day to talk to you about their problems, answer your questions, give you feedback, be your guinea pig, etc.

The ideal way to validate it is to be so immerse in the industry/problem such that you understand most of the pain points. Do the job that your ideal customer is doing. Attend the conferences they're going to. Visit the forums they're visiting. Read the websites they're visiting. Analyze the reviews they're posting in TrustRadius/G2Crowd. Look at their Linkedin profiles to see what their day to day involves.

> The ideal way to validate it is to be so immerse in the industry/problem such that you understand most of the pain points. Do the job that your ideal customer is doing.

I think this is a great reason to have a co-founder. I co-founded a company with a domain expert, and her ability to get in front of and understand our target audience was way more important to our startup success than my development ability (and the equity shares reflected that). I mean, we needed each other, but she was far more unique than I was.

The alternative for a developer is you immerse yourself into a different domain, or you build tools for developers. Both of which are good paths, but the former is far more time commitment and latter is more common (and thus more competitive).

Sure people will give you their time. It's very simple to get. Pay them.

It's called an inducement for a reason.

Too many "product people" or "visionaries" or whatever just don't know how to do user research and validation.

Too many people also have no idea how to solicit unbiased feedback and too many rely on asking questions and not nearly enough observation or testing.

One thing I realised recently is when you have traction, this is a much easier problem to deal with. Everyone keeps hounding you for improvements and you prune these requirements to increase utility and demand.

So its critical that you find a good sponsor/client in the early days. One that you have easy access to and you work together with until your product gets to the point where its utility is obviously apparent to new clients. And work it from there.

When your working with your first client they will inevitably drag you down into the small details (improve this/ make this). I call these the "meh" features. What you need to do is focus on analysing the underlying reason why they want the "meh" features and work on eradicating that reason. If you crack it, you get a "wow" feature. And that brings traction.

For example, we designed a financial platform for schools in a developing country. Finance operations in schools is complex with varying chains of manual processes. Our "meh" features were digitising these processes, improving each individual task. Our "wow" feature was to completely automate the end-end process for a small subset of schools with similar requirements. Instead of making their tasks easier, we just completely removed the need to do them. After that it was pretty apparent what we had to do.

I agree overall but it's not that hard to get people to talk to you if done a certain way. If you are trying to sell them while talking, yes that will be hard/impossible. However if you approach it as learning from experts, then I find people are much more receptive because most people like to help and feel important/useful. I always say I want to learn from them and offer to pay for their time which shows them I understand they are busy. I still get some NOs but that's okay. BTW I've never had someone want me to pay them, but I would if they did.

Pay could be a fancy lunch while discussing the issues.

You don't need them to clear up a whole day, and people are surprisingly willing to talk about their job and their frustrations.

I agree entirely with your second paragraph. With that being said, I do think it is very possible to test unbiased product-market fit. Simply do the promotional channels you would do if you had a product and pretend you have the best version of your product already and see if anyone will bite.

For instance, cold call companies and pretend you have the best version of your product on the phone or create a landing page that offers your "future product", buy PPC ads, and get people to fill out a lead gen form.

In both cases, once you talk a little bit, let them know the product is still under development and ask if they'd like to be contacted again once development is done.

You're right. Getting to the real crux of the problem that someone faces but also are willing to pay for a solution is not easy.

Though I have had good experiences talking to different industries because it could be as simple as a 20 min phone call.

I find that if people are really facing problems that they want to get rid of and someone is genuinely interested in solving it for them, they are usually open to chatting. It does take some effort to reach out.

I have had success talking to 30-50 individuals before I come up with a solution and customer development is also a skill that needs to be develop .

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