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Ask HN: Where do you find potential customers to validate your idea / MVP?
273 points by showsover 8 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 109 comments
Where do you find people to validate your idea / MVP and get feedback from? I've been building something over the past year that primarily scratches my own itch and I'm getting ready to use it myself but I was wondering how I could see if other people are interested in this as well.

I've read about landing pages and MVPs so that's kinda what I did: I've made something small, usable, that solves a single problem with myself as my user persona (i.e. scratching my own itch).

The problem I'm running into now is that I can't seem to gather any useful feedback and I don't know where to get that feedback, or how to get it. There are a few people registered on my site but none actually active enough for me to try and reach out to them.

How do you get feedback on your project / MVP without spamming HN or reddit in the hopes that one or two people leave a comment?

P.S. A fiverr clone for product owners or analysts might be what I'm looking for here.

I have a system for this.

You have two problems, not one. You need to get useful feedback out of 100pct of people, and you might need more people.

To get useful feedback, distill your potential value proposition to one sentence. If you have multiple ways of saying it, make a couple. But one sentence only and write it down.

When you have someone from the correct category (target market) on the phone, yes, you need a phone or video call, emit the potential value proposition sentence exactly as you have written it, not a word different.

Do not do any extra run up other than hi, how much time do you have, pleased to meet you...

Then, shut up. This is called 'the golden silence' in sales. and write down exactly the first thing they say.

The first thing they say is the truth, and you need to listen to it.

after that, you can try to dive in, and they might say they didn't understand at first, but the reality is people like to please people, and all that subsequent talk is secondary. The first reaction is what you bank on.

When you are going to market, you will put ad money, web site visits, whatever, into a single sentence, and it must resonate. Period. And it must resonate with your target market - you did remember to define your target market and potentially do a value proposition for each. There are a lot of target markets who don't buy the product (investors, influencers), but usually you do that only after you believe you have a thesis and resonating message.

> people like to please people

Related, if you can distance yourself from the product. Don't be the founder, owner, creator. Act like some other third party who is getting feedback.

People often mask criticism, and rarely do people tell someone that their baby is ugly. ;)

The book 'The Mom Test' is all about this.


This reminds me of a book I read recently called “New Sales. Simplified.” by Mike Weinberg, in terms of engaging with people on their terms and the “sales story”, highly recommended, and he narrates it himself on Audible. Very approachable for non-sales people but also refreshingly “back to basics” for those with sales exposure especially if wanting to focus on new sales acquisitions rather than just repeat customers.

This is a great comment but it assumes the poster has answered their posted question of "Where do you find potential customers?"

Once they have their value statement, it boils down to researching where it fits, researching potential prospects, then applying what the comment says.

The research, coupled with networking should identify types of prospects and how they do business.

From there, asking ones self whether the value can make sense should filter out gross misalignment, but not always!

Really understanding how organizations make their money is needed to target. Networking, shopping the value prop around should spark interest and potential research targets.

This is very high value. Nicely refined down to the core.

My experience with less sharp, more verbose variations on this show that results are colored by how they like you and that diminishes the clarity of the value information.

This is actually a very insightful question. You get them the same way you plan to get customers after you have built the product. If you do not have a way to get customers to test the idea, then you do not have a way to get customers after you build the product. The process of building an MVP includes the process of figuring out distribution.

That said, it depends a lot on what type of product you are building. If you are building a consumer product, then throw some money at digital ads and drive some traffic towards your idea. If people are signing up but not using it, that's feedback right there. They are intrigued enough to sign up but find it lacking in some way to stick around. Fix one thing and see if that changes anything. If it does, great. If not, fix something else. Hint on what to fix, think about user engagement in steps. Always fix the first possible step that you know is not working. When users start crossing that step then go to the next one. Repeat until IPO.

> The process of building an MVP includes the process of figuring out distribution.

As blindingly obvious as this is, I've never seen it put quite so concisely. Fantastic. I could've cut short so many bullshit discussions this way

>> The process of building an MVP includes the process of figuring out distribution. <<

Maybe I'm being picky here but I disagree a little bit with this. At the start, your MVP might just have been for you i.e. to scratch an itch you have and it is only later that you think about getting other people to use/pay for it. So maybe your above statement will (should??) apply if your MVP was targeted for the public

Isn't an MVP, by definition, not just for you?

hmm, good point. I didn't look at it from that POV.

When I'm trying to scratch an itch, I try to get something 'rough' and then try to add the bells and whistles later on. Mentally, I always think of that 'rough' bit as 'my own MVP' i.e. what are the minimum features I need to build for this tool to solve my problem.

For example I needed a self hosted solution to convert svg images to png. I need a way to specify the image to be converted, code to convert it, and a place to store the output. My first build had a text field where I manually enter the path to the svg file I need to convert, and I hardcoded the output folder. I thought of that as my MVP. When I was sure the code was working and much later on when I had the time, I added a file picker to allow me pick the input file and another file picker for me to specify the output location.

The "product" part of MVP refers to something you sell (rather, offer) in a market, and the "minimum viable" part refers to it being barebones but functional enough to be "sellable" and provide value, ie someone that isn't you is willing to go through the stated process to install and use it. So writing a tool that you use yourself without "customers" (used loosely) isn't in my mind an MVP, and neither is a product with no thought given to distribution.

For anyone reading the above comment and thinking "Well maybe for your product, but my product is so great once people see it they will buy it"

You are setting yourself up for a hell of a sales problem.

Never heard it put it that way either but it is so true. I am going to add key qualifier for any idea I have: “How difficult is it to talk to someone about it?”

Very well said.

Will add that from experience, the suggestion of knocking down technical issues is so important it’s mandatory, and it does not stop once you get users, it will be required forever with a successful product. BUT! ... IMO it’s a very slow way to acquire users, and the engagement improvements are incremental at best, unless you are making sweeping changes or hit something viral (unlikely!!) or were missing something truly glaring.

I did a lot of testing between adding features, addressing bug fixes, and then random attention-getting marketing like blog posts that happen to mention cats or money or other things people care more about than software. There was no comparison to the amount of attention they got, the tangential posts got many, many more people in the door than the technical posts. The steady feature improvements are what will keep people there, while fluffy emotional blog posts are what will attract a lot of window shoppers. It’s better if the blog posts are relevant to your app and feature announcements, of course, but I’m saying you can get users faster without writing software. It’s just a hard problem and a delicate balance, and don’t get stuck thinking “if I build it they will come.” Some amount of marketing is needed. And don’t get stuck writing ads or blog posts either. Some amount of attention to the software is needed. Do as much of both as you can.

It’s very difficult to get users to talk, whether they like your app or not. Most of the time they don’t know enough to be able to articulate what they want or need, even though they can sense it. And the people that talk loudest aren’t often the most important to listen to, especially if they’re not paying for anything.

Good Luck!

> And don’t get stuck writing ads or blog posts either.

I felt this one.

> If you do not have a way to get customers to test the idea, then you do not have a way to get customers after you build the product.

I need to hear this. Wow, really well thought out sentence. It makes so much sense.

I really like the insight about the feedback you are getting from crickets (no feedback) and the engagement progression.

Just fix the next step and start with the first step.

Repeat until IPO (Ha!!)

Great comment.

I'm going through this with the app I'm building in public. The things I've done that work well are:

1. Build in public—I'm using twitter heavily to share the journey, progress, etc. I've optimised my twitter profile to make it super clear what I'm doing. https://twitter.com/Martin_Adams

2. YouTube. I'm creating deep, genuinely helpful videos aimed directly at users who have a need and are searching for problem in the direct space my product fit in. I'm creating videos teaching how to use competitor products with an opportunity to introduce what I'm building. I don't think there's any platform as accessible to tap into active search results. Here's an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6qfrRVUOO8

3. Funnel people to join your mailing list. I'm using ConvertKit and now averaging about 5 people per day just from the above two actions. My record is two days with 19 people dropping their email in. I have 124 people on my email list who are now interested and relevant to my project due to the YouTube content. My landing page is here: https://join.flowtelic.com.

4. Reply to other people on HN, Reddit, etc and try to be genuinely helpful with an opportunity to introduce what you're doing. This reply is an example of that.

From there you can chat to people on Twitter and email your mailing list directly for feedback.

takes lot of courage to build in public, kudos!

Yes, especially when you know its time to abandon a project because it's not getting any traction - after you've been telling everyone about it for months. Should keep in mind nobody else is going to think much about your failed project but you :)

Looks like a great, well-polished note taking app.

Especially like the simple pricing and no vendor lock in.

Well done, might take this for a spin sometime.


  - Go through your linkedin/twitter/instagram account. Find people who would be interested. Send them an email/message. 
  - Search online for thought leaders, industry people that work in that specific field. Could be as easy as a twitter search, it could be more complex like going through white papers and emailing researchers. 
  - There are websites where you can request all sorts of feed back including MVP feedback. Fiver has a section (https://www.fiverr.com/categories/programming-tech/user-testing-services), and there are niche sites https://www.usertesting.com/
  - Hacker News?
  - Reddit has subs dedicated to that sort of thing: https://www.reddit.com/r/websitefeedback/
  - Meetups. 2 different versions. 1) Prepare your elevator pitch and bring your phone 2) Message meetup founders and ask them where they would go for feedback, since they are thought leaders of sorts.
  - Dischord (mentioned elsewhere) 
  - Just start trying to sell it the way that you planned on marketing it (hopefully you've thought about your marketing plan)

Check out The Mom Test and find an audience to talk to first. Validate any idea long before you build an MVP. In my opinion it's two separate steps.

I must admit I've also fallen in your trap many times myself. It's too fun to just go ahead and build something sometimes without considering the best way to find those early users first.

Seconding The Mom Test recommendations. Terrible name, incredible book - full of down to earth, actionable advice.

That said, the first step is finding your customers. If you can't find them to talk with them, how will you find them to sell to them?

I wish this book wasn’t called the Mom Test, people I’ve recommended it to didn’t take it seriously because of that. But it’s definitely one of the best books ever written on problem validation.

I had also previously dismissed it because of the stupid name (...and it should be Mum Test if anything...) but luckily my friend insisted that I read it.

I often skim the crib sheet on the last few pages to remind myself of the goodness within.

i once had a vc, during a pitch, who asked if i could sell to her mom. As it was database infrastructure, it seemed kinda wrong, but it turns out her mom owned a small business and was the primary tech buyer, and the mom was in the lobby because they were supposed to go to lunch. I didn't get interest from the firm but it was a heck of an experience.

sounds like a cool mom, gonna check it out.

Honestly for us (https://butterflylabs.gitlab.io/api-documentation) we just cold emailed a large number of folks we thought were our target demographic. Basically LinkedIn, look for product managers who are mid-level, and reach out. We got our first two customers from there on our MVP. The thing to keep in mind is if your MVP would solve a real problem, usually folks will be willing to try your solution because it's something they really need. Otherwise your product is just a nice to have and you're probably close to but not quite hitting the right problem spot.

I would say ideally wherever they hangout. Figuring that out is a big part of the job, next is to find out how to engage with them. Going through that process will lead to a lot of learning. Figuring out a distribution channel for whatever you are doing is essential for getting to market and finding early users will inform that process. Read the mom test if you haven't already so you have a framework for how to speak to potential users.

this! if you are not the customer, it's going to be hard to build for them. You need to live, breathe like customer everyday. Hangout where they are.

I have the same question as you. Two sources of potential feedback I've found, which are not spammy or unpleasant for people:

- Adding an update to an Indie Hacker product profile with a link to a blog post

- Adding a post to the "Share Your Startup" thread in r/startups, which has been a thread that is started on the first of each month [0]

But, in general, I have the same questions as you, so I don't imagine this will provide more than a small boost in feedback.

[0] https://www.reddit.com/r/startups/?f=flair_name%3A%22Share%2...

I'm not very experienced as a founder, but I put very low weight in audiences on sites like indie-hackers, r/startups, HN, product-hunt... it's a very specific kind of person who hang out there – mostly just tech and growth folks, and super-gung-ho-early-adopter types, who are a poor substitue for actual long-term customers

I would say FB groups, subreddits, meetups around your potential customers' industry are a much better start.

For your project it might be useful to examine where you first looked for solutions before deciding to create your own. You want to find customers, not just people to give you feedback.

I have also learned the hard way that it’s better to start with customers and then find the idea to implement that you can sell to them than the other way around. I have built way too many things that scratched my own itch but nobody else seemed to need all that badly.

There was a trick in "Four hour work week" - I'm going from memory, might not be accurate - where Ferriss would place eBay listings for nonexistent products and then cancel the auction before it completed; any bidding would indicate real customer interest.

You could do something similar with facebook ads. Make ads for the finished product, if people click take them to a "Register for more info" page. Now you have some email addresses of interested people.

This only measures superficial interest in a concept of course; it doesn't give feedback on your actual product.

The 4 hour work week is such an awesome book.

Hey! I understand the position you're at. Wrote a guide[1] previously about how to find customers and talk to them.

To summarize:

1. You'll find users for product feedback the same way you'll find customers to pay for your product.

2. Look for manual, non-scalable ways to get your first set of users and feedback. Don't do anything passive like joining an email list etc. Direct message, because you want conversations at this stage.

3. Where do your customers hang out? It could be on LinkedIn with a certain designation to their profile, Facebook groups, Slack communities, on Twitter, the specific subreddit where people might have the problem you're solving. Or any other internet community, it could be that they search for "specific phrases" on Google when they face the problem you're trying to solve.

Go to these avenues, write comments, be helpful to the community, look for people who are talking about your problem, or write a descriptive post explaining the problem you're trying to solve and that you're looking for beta testers, ask them to DM you.

In the case of Google, throw together a simple landing page, pay for the keywords via Google AdWords and try to get people to message you with messaging buttons or a live chat on the site. Or have a link or calendar embed for people to book a 1:1 demo with you.

4. Make sure you make an offer to make it worth others. Tell them they'll get 90 days of free beta access in exchange for providing feedback.

Keep focusing on having as many 1:1 conversations as possible. When you try various methods, one of them will work better than the rest.

Double down on what's working and get more people. Eventually that'll become your marketing channel.

[1] https://www.preetamnath.com/micro-saas/validate-saas-idea

I tend to listen to pain points of friends or even random internet comments and seek to fix that, then have an incentive to get others.

Nothing huge but provides a living and backup over 9/5 job.

Main problem of asking friends is feedback in the form of "this is super" but often not super constructive.

But if it solves two people's problem, then it likely solves more than two. And iterate on that. Which can go from payment to organisational stubbornness to recognise their pain.

If you've already made your MVP, just try to sell it. Almost all of the feedback you get "organically" will be from people who are actually interested in your product and have a stake in it being able to meet their needs. A lot of it will be in the form of "Does your product do x?" or "How do I do x with your product?.

I would probably get an average of two pieces of valuable feedback a week through customers (or potential customers) emailing me directly and telling me how they use my product or what they liked/regretted. The few times my product has been shown on a forum like HN, a lot of the comments were low-value, hypothetical spitballing or complaints from people that weren't part of the target market anyway.

Start with your personal social circle, and/or 1st level referrals from your personal social circle. It's what Steve Blank calls "Friendly First Contacts". If you can't figure out a way to get useful feedback / sign of a reason to move forward from this group, then pivot or give up.

The other option is "spend money to blast your thing to a wide audience and hope for the best." Buy Reddit ads, Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, Google ads, whatever. The downside to this is: it costs money (potentially a lot) and doesn't generate necessarily generate quality feedback because the people you're targeting aren't invested in helping you.

Also: read The Four Steps to the Epiphany or The Startup Owner's Manual.

This worked better for me too, so far. But it may depend on what the OP is working on. I'm in a similar situation as the OP, and asked people I know if they know anyone in the target or related fields. And then further asked those people if they knew anyone, at the end of the call. I'm still in the middle of this process right now, so let's see how it goes.

I don't ask if they think my product is a good idea. I ask questions about how they work, delve deep into the mundane details of their work, understand what the challenges are. Finally I make my own assessment of whether my product will truly be valuable to them. I do plan on pitching to some of them later, once I've a fairly good understanding of how my target users work.

Importantly, I was clear with everyone (including my friends) that I wasn't selling or pitching anything, and that my goal was to understand how the target users work. The product idea I have is just the context explained in the first 2-3 mins, the rest of the call is just listening and understanding their workflow. The conversations usually tend to be 30 mins to 1 hr.

+100 for 'Four Steps to the Epiphany'. All of what I did above was lifted straight from that book. I've been internalizing it for years, and still fail to follow it properly. It's an amazing book :)

I don't ask if they think my product is a good idea. I ask questions about how they work, delve deep into the mundane details of their work, understand what the challenges are. Finally I make my own assessment of whether my product will truly be valuable to them. I do plan on pitching to some of them later, once I've a fairly good understanding of how my target users work.

I feel like that's the right way to do it. Those initial early calls aren't "sales calls" per-se, but depending on what you learn, you may well circle back to those people and try to sell them something later in the process.

All of what I did above was lifted straight from that book. I've been internalizing it for years, and still fail to follow it properly.

Same here. I have followed parts of it pretty closely at times, but it's hard to discipline yourself to stick to that more patient, rigorous approach sometimes. Too often I've been guilty of falling back into the conceit of thinking "of course this is a good idea" and starting to build stuff just because I convinced myself. :-(

+1 for 1st level referrals. But folks within your own social circle can be tricky because it might be hard to figure out their true opinion if your idea sucks. When a friend has sought my feedback, I find myself balancing between trying to be honest with being supportive and open-minded. I'm sure people have done the same to me.

Agreed. That's one reason the 1st level referrals are so valuable. They represent people where you have a nice solid, warm introduction, but yet they aren't your personal friends, and won't necessarily feel the need to lie to you to protect your feelings.

That said, I think part of the trick is to not just ask "do you think this idea sucks or not", but rather to ask probing questions that, in and of themselves, seem totally innocuous - but which will tell you if your idea has value or not. Figuring out how to that is part art / part science, and I can't claim to have completely mastered it myself either TBH. Still working on it...

Discord is actually great for having people test things. Search for a server related to what your idea focuses on and get random people to test and provide instant feedback.

+1 Discord community is quite under utilized. I recently posted on a Discord forum where my potential users hang out and it was a great experience.

For OP: What is your product and who is your target audience?

Generally ways you find users are

outbound: find potential users then call/email them.

Inbound: find out what your potential users are searching for

Community: find online communities where your potential users hang out

For other people besides poster who are earlier in this process. Figure out your marketing/sales/go to market strategy before you start coding.

My product is in the FIRE movement: tracking your net worth and figuring out how to get there. It's a simple webapp at the moment that tracks your investments and helps you guesstimate how much you need to save every month to achieve your goal. I'd appreciate any feedback about it! https://roadto.fi

Then I think a community driven approach would be a good place to find potential users for feedback.




Also facebook.

Not to mention there are a ton of bloggers. Start emailing bloggers in this space and explain why your app is better than the rest.

I haven't thought at all about bloggers, that's a really good tip!

Unfortunately I'm one of those people without a fb account, so that's out of the question for me. Twitter is similar, I have no wish to make this all about me, but rather about the product itself.

With regards to reddit: I've been following those subreddits for a while now, but it's hard to justify to myself to spend that much time there to market my app, compared to using that time to improve it. That's something I'll have to find a balance for I guess.

Thanks for the reply, much appreciated.

Highly recommend Brian's Tacklebox program. It helped me create a framework for validating my product idea, while gaining the skills (and confidence) for running customer interviews, landing page tests, mapping markets, etc.

Obviously, you still need to put in the work to reach out to potential users. But the program helps you approach it in a structured format.


For us, it was trade shows. We did the math: what would we pay per person to have them take a look at our software, and how many people did we think we'd get to come by our booth at a show? I realize this can vary by industry though, in ours a standard booth is roughly $1000 which is far more affordable than most. We learned a ton and made contact with our first customers who ended up being vital in helping us refine our functionality.

This resonates a lot. What line of business are you in?

Human resources and regulatory compliance.

Betalist is good for this: https://betalist.com/

I'd also recommend spending the next 30 minutes putting together a very rough description and a mailing list sign up form, and then posting a comment in this thread with a link. Being on the front page of HN will get you hundreds to thousands of visitors, and it isn't easy, so don't miss the opportunity!

Such posts very rarely appear on front page, maybe 0.1% of them.

Hmm... I just read a great book by Rob Fitzpatrick that talks about having customer conversation. It's called The Mom Test.

I did a summary here: https://www.chestergrant.com/summary-the-mom-test-by-rob-fit...

I recommend getting a copy, solid advice from a past y-combinator founder.

I run two reddits where self promotion is okay, assuming it's relevant to the problem space and not excessively often.

One is r/ClothingStartups. You don't have to be selling clothing for it to be okay to pop in and ask for feedback on your product. You do need to be able to make a reasonable assertion that you think it could be pertinent to early stage, small clothing businesses.

The other is r/GigWorks. If you are working on a gig platform of some sort, you are welcome to pop in there and talk to folks.

R/ClothingStartups has a few thousand members and regular traffic. People actually get feedback there sometimes on the stuff they are trying to do (mostly clothing businesses). It's growing at around 40 to 60 members per week with little to no promotion.

> without spamming HN or reddit

Do you customers spend time there? Then go ahead and ask for feedback.

> P.S. A fiverr clone for product owners or analysts might be what I'm looking for here.

Cold emails through LinkedIn? Or product owners and analysts your friend/former colleagues can introduce you to? Product meet-ups are a thing as well (most likely online). You might try talking to people and asking for feedback there. https://www.meetup.com/topics/product-owners/

> I'm getting ready to use it myself

If that's a fiverr clone, is it sort of marketplace?

They do spend time there, it's one of the only places that i know where FIRE enthousiasts hang out regularely.

I'm creating something to track your net worth so you can map out your road to FI. I'd appreciate any feedback if possible: https://roadto.fi

1. Where do you get the data from? Is it supposed to fetch it from my accounts somehow?

2. Why would I trust you with my data? I mean, do you have a bank-level security?

3. 3 "Create account" buttons seem a bit excessive, as you can see all 3 of them without scrolling.

Thanks for the feedback, appreciate it!

1. The account fetching is not possible as of yet because the brokers i use personally don't have an api available. 2. I'm not sure what you expect me to reply here, of course I have no bank-level security but I am taking the possible precautions. 3. Thanks, might need to rethink that page a bit, perhaps add some more content.

And "Create an account" button shows "Login" tab instead of "Register" on Safari.

In general, don't you want to have a potential customer with a problem first?

It seems like building a product and then trying to find people to validate it is backwards.

I faced the same issue and in the end I had to create my own problem validation platform - needgap[1].

Problem, not startup idea because; IMO problems are tangible, it's something people have right now unlike a startup idea which materializes only when it solves the said problem and when enough people need it.

So, I created a platform which treats problems as first class citizen and new posts are strictly for problem statement. Startup ideas to solve those problems can be discussed in the comments along with existing solutions for the problem.

Potential customers search with their problem terms on search engines and so there's good chance they'll visit a needgap thread than a startup idea validation 'landing' page. I've been running needgap for nearly 2 years now and several projects have been created to solve the problems posted there.

I'm personally starting to get better understanding of the grammar of problems and startup ideas with needgap and hope to make it a even better validation platform with the help of the community.

[1] https://needgap.com

I faced/am facing the same 2 issues with https://nocommandline.com which is a GUI for Google App Engine

1) How to find people to validate your idea: I've used Show HN, Stackoverflow (I respond to questions about Google App Engine and a few other areas), Google Groups forum for GAE. I'm also trying Twitter by responding to comments that I feel are related to GAE, Cloud hosting, etc - basically any thing that I feel is related to the App or just general knowledge that I have that is helpful to someone

2) How to get feedback from users: This is the part that I'm struggling with. I have a link on the website for submitting bugs, providing feedback, etc. I haven't gotten much feedback from it. The windows version of the App had some bugs at the time of my ShowHN (I mistakenly exposed the download link for the Windows version) and I could see multiple people downloaded it but I didn't receive word from anybody saying it wasn't working or complaints about it. I have since fixed the bug.

1. Depending on your application, the end users can be from different target market/background. If that will be the case with your app, list down the top X markets and create a specific landing page which "talks" the language of the target market.

2. Cold-outreach, Find your ideal target customers on LinkedIn/Twitter, google them, message/email them on social media (lead finding tools) and ask for help. Be willing to offer to pay them for 10-15 minutes of their time. At least a few will help without asking for money.

3. Assuming what you are selling is described on a landing page (doesn't have to be), you can do a user test by asking questions to consumers using survey tools) the goal is find out if users understand what you are trying to sell (clarity of message, trustworthiness)

You can use tools like Survey Monkey, Google Surveys, even Facebook ads.

here are a couple of examples of a purpose-built tool for feedback called ninjafeedback:


If you don't know where your potential customer are, do you really know the problem space well enough to build something?

Shameless plug for the service we built to solve this for ourselves - https://www.pickfu.com

The MVP was to meant to replace asking randos at a coffee shop about your idea/design/etc. Over time we've added demographic targeting, follow-up questions, and other requested features. Nowadays online sellers and other creators use it like an online focus group to validate ideas and products.

Some other ideas for finding an audience for your MVP:

  - google the exact problem you're trying to solve, reach out to authors/bloggers who've written about it
  - online ads to your target demographic 
  - LinkedIn prospecting (if you have a target customer profile)
  - Subreddits of your target problem area
  - Start writing/tweeting about the problem space and engage the audience that follows
  - comments section of relevant YouTube videos

The key here is to be super intentional about which customer groups you want to reach out to regardless of how easy is it to get them. For example, when public.com was in their beta phase, they avoided the low hanging fruit of going to those wall street bets and those reddit groups and instead took a very deliberate approach of looking for more diverse and underserved communities and go after them (e.g. professional women's slack groups)

I wrote more about their story here in my substack (https://consumerstartups.substack.com/p/-39-how-to-make-stoc...). I also share a bunch of stories about how other successful early stage startups acquired their first batch of users and validated their ideas.

When you work on the first idea/MVP, try to find an idea that you or your family can use.

If you and your family friend can use it, then you will feel the awakrd when you demo a product to them immediately.

Try to record a video tell about your product, you will realize so many crap your product has without any feedback from outside. You will feel the pain.

As in, where to find feedback. you have to hang out in where your target audience hang out. Eg, for me, I have an email forwarding app, and I try to google question about email forwarding (cloudflare, reddit, quora) and answer them. By answer those questions, you kind of feel the painp point.

If you consistently pushing, people will reach out to your eventually.

Don't lose hope when it seems no one care your product. Good luck.

I routinely recruit highly targeted people for 1-on-1 interviews via services like userinterviews.com to help validate concepts. These services take care of incentives and scheduling, making this process fairly painless.

We've found userinterviews.com to be fantastic for testing usability, and decent for product feedback. You can target people by experience and industry, and they are most often intelligent humans.


Are you still looking to validate your idea because I'm developing a saas solution around 'Rapidly Validate and Prototype Startup Ideas'.

I would appreciate if you or anyone on hacker news would like to jump on a zoom call (or anytime this/next week), so you can better communicate your experiences trying to validate your idea.

If you are interested, calendly link (book a timeslot): https://calendly.com/prepxus

FYI. I won't add my website because that is self promotion

How do you "talk to your users"?

1. By getting "distribution", which means people buying, or considering buying, your product or service by visiting your web site, taking sales calls, etc.

2. Then you talk to these people who bought (or didn't buy) your product or service about why or why not. This can be via email, chat, phone, survey, etc.

How do you get "distribution"?

1. You buy it with money (ads, etc) if you have the money to do so (it's not cheap).

2. Or you farm for it on someone else's platform (SEO, media stories, etc) if you have more time than money.

It depends a lot on the target audience, but some subreddits also have a Slack/Discord channel where you can be more open about your intentions and get immediate feedback.

What I like about this model is that if any customer is really interested in your product, you can start a video call and discuss about it. Also, you can put these people on an email list of interested people (with their permission), which can be your first cohort.

Events are another excellent place to find targets to interview. For example, if you work in security, go to RSA and just bug people in booths or wherever.

Depending on what you're building, reddit is by far the best answer. For many things I've built I've been a part of the subreddit for a long time, intimately know the community, built something I know they need, and post it there. If it gets upvoted and they like it, its validated. If it doesn't get upvoted, well, back to the drawing board.

Many subreddits have a no promotion policy. Mods will strictly enforce this/ban you if you try.

I think reddit ads are pretty underrated, they are fairly cheap, you can target specific subreddits and people in those subreddits tend to be passionate about the topic.

If you allow them to comment on the ad itself, you might even get more useful feedback in addition to getting users on your mvp (there will also be lots of copy-pasta, but it's not too bad).

Ooh, I was considering some ad buys to promote the kickstarter for the LaTeX book I'm writing. I'd considered advertising on tex.stackexchange.com but found that the pricing is closely held and apparently in the "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" range. Reddit, on the other hand, will let me buy an ad starting at $5 and the site I read talked about the $.75/CPM and said that the biggest challenge is that for niche products, it can be hard to actually get $5 worth of CPM in the time frame of the ad since the $5 is per sub-reddit, but this looks to be exactly what I want right now.

Twitter DMs are such a great resource. Go sign up for a tool like BuzzSumo (they got a free trial) and use their Twitter influencers search feature to find users that have a specific keyword in their bio. Then DM the ones that have DM public, and ask for their opinion. Or alternatively, just send them a regular message, without trying to spam.

I'm in a similar boat with the added difficulty of living in Japan and having a limited command of Japanese. My intended user base would be housewives.

I've got a few bilingual acquaintances I could demo the app to but don't want to risk not getting honest feedback. Does anyone have any additional points which might help?

We are building a service where you can get design reviews especially for cross cultural situations like this. If you don't speak the language I doubt you would nail a design that Japanese housewives would relate to. Check it out if you want at https://borrowmind.io

You should search for potential customers/clients where they usually are.

I see many people advise Discord, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. They're all right! But it works for them.

If your potential customers are devs, use Hacker News. However, HN won't work if your potential clients are non-devs.

The only right answer (in my opinion) is: "it depends"

Maybe this answer isn't scalable, but I personally find that as long as I want to use it, I can find other people who want to use it.

Typically, posting to reddit and sharing with my friends has been helpful.

Also, I recently started a Twitter to try and meet other builders, it has been invaluable in terms of support and feedback.

First, friend networks, and then LinkedIn. If I can get someone interested enough for a call / action I might be onto something.

I think feedback from friends is helpful if you craft it to be very specific and keep it outside your relationship.

And, LinkedIn is amazing for zeroing in on people who might be interested.

If you've scratched your own itch, find more people with your own itch. Try to onboard every user: this let's you show them how to use it, and you'll learn more watching them use it than any second-degree data you pick up.

I would recommend reading "The Mom Test". You can knock it out in a few days and it's got some pretty good insight on finding the right people and also getting meaningful feedback.

I think the importance of users feedback and validation is often overrated.

If Steve Jobs asked people, if they want a phone with no keyboard and just a touchscreen, most of them would say no back then.

When I was working for Motorola in 1997, I came up with an idea for something very much like the iPhone (although not as good and it required a stylus as I was thinking in terms of the functionality of the Palm Pilot). But the execution of the iPhone was light years ahead of what I dreamt up while working at Motorola (and since I was a contractor there, I never shared my brilliant idea with anyone who could have put it into development anyway). A phone with no keyboard and just a touchscreen could have been easily sold before the original demo. the difference is that what Apple came up with was far beyond what anyone had imagined.

Fortunately, I was an adult at the time the original iphone came out. (Although not in the US.) By then, market was already flooded with cheap Chinese phones with "touchscreen" which required a stylus. Apple, actually, was already pretty late to the game. Jobs' core innovation was the insistence on getting rid of the stylus.

Very helpful.. I'm trying to get traction for my site too. https://nftpedia.co - NFT search and general info

Following. This is something I've been thinking a lot about with WeBase (see https://www.webase.com)

Can I give you some feedback? I just watched the animation under "A database for anyone" and it irritates me that the mouse pointer is moving all over before clicking the right thing.

Huge books/blog posts have been written about this. Maybe let's start with your product area and/or what it solves for you and we can help you from there?

I've had some luck posting on https://www.producthunt.com/ in the past

Disclaimer: Non-dev small business owner here; I only MVPed offerings that solve a big-enough existing problem of contacts I know -- so for me the logical customers to validate are the ones with the pain points that I can comfortably access.

For people who are comfortable enough to give you a signup already I'd just reach out to them first via a cold+mass email and get conversion through numbers.

Once you get that personal connection you just wanna make sure it solves their use case; do remember how you solve it for them is often times as important as solving it itself.

I have just started trying to cold email/linked in message people who have the relevant job titles on linked in. I just started yesterday so I can't tell you how its going yet. But I'm looking for people at companies large enough to have people dedicated to a specific subsets of mechanical engineering.

advertise; once you have something you are ready to charge for, work with someone well-versed in sales and marketing to get your product's name out there in front of people who may pay for it

for B2B/Enterprise, investors or board members can usually open some doors

The specifics of what you're product does will partly guide your approach, and I couldn't get enough information from the context to be sure that my advice will be appropriate, but I'll share what experiences I do have.

First -- what are you looking for with regard to feedback? Are you looking for someone to tell you that your product solves the same problem for them, too? Are you looking to better understand the problem (and related problems) so that you know what to focus on after the Minimum part is over? Are you looking for someone who specifically has this problem to determine if there's any interest in even solving it (and/or to what that person might be willing to spend/do/put up with to have that problem solved)?

These questions usually serve product design and the customers who are willing to take the time to give you these answers are -- somewhat -- designing your product with you. If you want comprehensive feedback, you'll need to incentivize[0] it. On the very high-end, there are companies who will put together focus groups for you; but they have to cost a fortune[1].

My approach is to pick up a phone (figuratively). Anything that I've written with a target of selling, personally, has generally focused on solving a problem for a business that I frequent. I made an observation a while back that my dentist's scheduling and office management system was pretty terrible[2]; this being in the early days of the "maturity of text messaging" and my having built a self-service Kiosk application, I had some ideas and a strong working relationship due to weak enamel and a propensity to consume sugary beverages. I called him up and was surprised at how willing he was to talk my ear off about this problem. It was so encouraging, that I called a six other dental offices, left messages for dentists, and ended up receiving good feedback from about 10 individuals.

I have the original script that I typed up with my list of questions, because I wasn't great "off the cuff" and really wanted to avoid sounding like a sales-person or telemarketer. "I'm a software developer in (city). While visiting my dentist, I had some ideas for writing a software application for dental office management. I'm not a dentist, so I'm seeking help from local dentists to understand if there's a way to write something that can reduce the amount of time dentists spend away from patients. If you have a few minutes and can help a guy out, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks!"

I called and left that message with the receptionist being as ridiculously polite as I could; I heard ringing in the background, once, and said "I'm not a patient, so take that one and get back to me when you've had a moment to catch your breath" and sat on hold for 10 minutes... I called back a few days later about an hour before close and discovered (1) small dentists often employ husband/wife/mom/dad as office manager/reception part-time (2) oh...wow, one mom is really helpful and doesn't get any crap for having a 2.5 hour conversation in the open lobby while processing customer payments, or for interrupting her daughter during a procedure to ask a question (I had no idea she would do this).

For anyone wondering, no, I never wrote it. Shortly after researching, I had a visit to a specialist (sleep, not dental) who had a system in place that basically did everything I was looking to do, which took the wind out of my sails long enough for me to see my own dentist install a fingerprint reader/incredible setup over here shortly after the last failure of the server he had in his office. I was pleased to learn that he picked the setup he did because "it included checkin/checkout via touch screen kiosk" and "had a fingerprint reader"[3] based on the conversation I had with him. And it solved his problems and made the experience for me as his patient, better, as well. After using it, I kind of wish I had written it. :)

[0] You can just outright pay someone, but I'm assuming that's not desired.

[1] And a million who will send spam to you offering you money for your opinion. Anyone with an inbox is familiar with all of the scammy "Get Paid for your Opinion", but there are real companies out there -- I've routinely participated in focus groups with Shiffrin-Hayworth and been paid an average $150/group (catered); their web site, Lord, looks fresh out of 1999, no SSL -- if my Mom hadn't referred me I'd have assumed they were a scam.

[2] Especially when I visited one day while his tech guy was changing tapes in the tape backup due to an over-night server failure.

[3] I mentioned "fingerprint reader" by accident when I talked with him about it early on but even before discussing with him, I had decided against it. I figured there's no way that thing isn't going to be sanitized endlessly by random staff without regard for how the cleaner could affect the reader. I had many-a windex bottles emptied out on my keyboard (thank God for that Northgate Omnikey) from a well meaning mom trying to rub the dirt marks off of the spacebar/enter/arrow keys.

A couple of things need to be balanced, I think, as I'm doing just that with PriceUnlock (https://bychgroup.com/price-unlock/)

PriceUnlock will help SaaS owners finds the perfect pricing for their product, with more upside and less downside when trying new prices. Besides, it helps you stop leaving money on the table.


1. You can "scratch and claw", as Jason Cohen (founder of WPEngine) puts it. He talks more about this in the YT link below and he also puts out this idea of 150 customers, not "1000 true fans". I highly highly recommend watching the video, regardless of going VC/bootstrapped. He also talks about 2 other ways besides scratching and clawing


2. Building in public is an upward trend these days. Basically you share as many milestones/ups/downs about your journey of building it. This can be a trap as well: it only works if your audience is A) interested in you sharing that, B) probably hackers/builders etc.

I asked PG about this and he pretty much summed it up: https://twitter.com/paulg/status/1375038728519974912

3. As I'm building PriceUnlock, you'll also notice that I'm collecting emails (the ol' way) to get people's interest. I don't want to make a mailing list, I want to build my product, so I'll aim to be better doing the second rather than the first. But it doesn't hurt to, as Rob Walling did with Drip, launch with some MRR hopefully... or at least with some interest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLay7kksLtc

4. The usual set of things hackers do when they launch their thing: ProductHunt, Betalist, etc. Don't forget to join my subreddit on https://www.reddit.com/r/saas if that's what you're building (SaaS is v popular these days, so anyone reading this is invited!)

5. This pretty much ties to point 1, but the scratching and clawing is just another way to put the age-old adage: help (the relevant set of) people so you get their attention, use that attention as 'free advertising' for your product. It doesn't get any better than this as it's not intrusive and at least it's a win-zero-sum-game, at best a win-win. That's how I built my main company into 5M+ users and that's what I can preach

that said....

6. Deep down inside I thought what Jason Fried of Basecamp put best here. I'll let him say it: https://world.hey.com/jason/validation-is-a-mirage-273c0969

Thanks! Checked every single link. And let me say that I was thinking using something like price-unlock in the future. I hope to see some updates on the project

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