I know this probably isn't what you want to hear, and you've probably heard this advice before. I was like that too, and I ignored it. But it really does seem to work.
I went through a YC Startup School session a while back and there was a session about how to get your first customers - I can’t remember who it was (maybe Seibel?), but he (paraphrasing) answered it with something like “why are you building something if you haven’t talked to your customers”. It’s really stuck with me along with the “build something people want” thing.
* because it's a secret and you don't want competitors to get advantage
* because customers won't get the idea without a mvp
* because revealing your idea might reduce your impulse
* because customers will ask for all kind of features and change your idea into something else, more practical, like "get a job" instead of dreaming in your great idea
If it's that easy to replicate then what's to stop them from copying you and eating your market share once you've launched?
> because customers won't get the idea without a mvp
If that's true then you have to ask yourself if you're actually solving a problem people have or designing a solution in search of a problem. Which then comes back to the GPs advice about speaking to your customers.
> because revealing your idea might reduce your impulse
I guess that's possible but often I see the reverse: engineers spending forever refining their idea because they're scared to release anything until it's perfect. At least by revealing your idea you're committing to a release early and often model that would see actual users on your platform.
> because customers will ask for all kind of features and change your idea into something else, more practical, like "get a job" instead of dreaming in your great idea
Sorry but I don't really understand the point you're making here.
If you're saying customers will ask for more practical features then surely that's a good thing? The opposite of that problem is spending months building something users don't want nor need. Which again, comes back to the GPs advice about speaking to your customers.
If you're concerned that people will tell you to "get a job" then that could happen regardless of whether you announce your project or not. I don't really see how secrecy would affect the opinions of those kind of narrow minded individuals. Plus why should those comments even matter in the first place when they're clearly not relevant to your task at hand?
Incidentally, I think the equally common advice of "solve a problem that you have yourself" is coming from the same place: you can't solve a problem without understanding your users.
So does this mean that it's okay to start developing a product if you yourself have such an (acute) problem even if you don't check for/with external customers first?
If you're building an SaaS for some company/client that needs, it there's almost 0% chance of them ripping you off. A bank that needs some specialized HR software is not going to start making HR software.
2) It's absolutely reasonable that customers have a hard time grasping abstractions. 'Seeing It' is a huge chunk of the story.
3) It's very valid that 'early users' will pull you in a bunch of different directions - many of them are rabbit holes, not generalizable, poorly thought out.
They will literally ask for things they don't even actually need. It happens all the time customer XYZ demands some feature, then they don't use it.
This is why it usually helps to have faced the problem yourself, you can get to an MVP that has some 'coherence' and then go from there.
That was the point I was making. If competition is your concern then the problem is either too simple or your solution doesn't meet the customers requirements.
> If you're building an SaaS for some company/client that needs, it there's almost 0% chance of them ripping you off. A bank that needs some specialized HR software is not going to start making HR software.
Depends on the problem you're solving. Not every problem requires a building a SaaS, for example.
> It's absolutely reasonable that customers have a hard time grasping abstractions. 'Seeing It' is a huge chunk of the story.
I'm sure there are instances where that's true but the problem is if it's hard to grasp then it's harder to sell. This is particularly true when you factor in that spend is usually signed off by non-engineering managers. So if you're building something that is hard to grasp then you better be damn sure that you're solving a problem that is easy to conceptualise as important (like security tooling).
> It's very valid that 'early users' will pull you in a bunch of different directions - many of them are rabbit holes, not generalizable, poorly thought out. They will literally ask for things they don't even actually need. It happens all the time customer XYZ demands some feature, then they don't use it.
Nobody is suggesting you should implement each and every suggestion raised in your market research. However not doing any prior research means you're essentially taking a shot in the dark.
> This is why it usually helps to have faced the problem yourself, you can get to an MVP that has some 'coherence' and then go from there.
It helps but you shouldn't blindly assume your problem is identical to everyone else's. You made an earlier point about early users pulling you in a bunch of different directions, not all of them being well thought out. Well there's nothing stopping you going down your own rabbit hole of poorly thought out assumptions even when you have faced the problem yourself.
Nothing. So the only defense would be, having a good headstart, by having a working product by the time of release. Just presenting ideas and sketches does not give this edge.
Doing a startup is a huge amount of work. Like the shipping coordinator for the warehouse you're selling into is going to just 'do a startup'? Or the lady who supports customers in the field on dialysis machines is going to go from middle aged customers service support to CEO?
There are other things to worry about.
Nobody is suggesting you should publicly disclose all your preliminary ideas and sketches. It's more about researching your users problems and having discussions there.
Plus you could argue doing this actually aids in your "headstart" rather than hinders it:
1. You can approach the project with a better understanding of the problem domain and thus can tweak your solution to the captive market (rather than having to repeatedly pivot your product until you chance upon that market).
2. You already have contacts of potential customers before you launch.
Anyone working in secret has to figure those two problems out after they launch.
Talk to your customers about their problems and their needs, not the solution itself. The solution can remain a secret.
Again, figure out the customers problems first.
Don't reveal it until it's ready to be revealed.
If customers are asking for features, then there's your demand right there. Strategise on how you want to address it.
Based on my (limited) experience with startups I would rather have this than a network of funders or great developers or almost anything else you can accumulate before you start.
Unless you are solving your own problem, and have pains/gains that strongly match with that small subset you will be struggling on the wrong beachhead. You are likely to solve an aspect of the wider problem but with little chance of getting much further.
If you don't listen to people you'll need to be very lucky with loyal supporters, or a very rare visionary with incredible talent and commitment.
People generally won't or don't reveal their deep pains and needs (gains) until you probe and engage in direct research through conversation.
I guess the real problem is how to find these small group of potential passionates for your mvp
My general takeaway is that popular Reddit posts now fuel a portion of traditional journalism.
Run highly targeted advertisements, and specifically include in the advertisement that you are looking for beta test users to talk to - and what kind of users you are looking for.
The most success we had was with LinkedIn Lead Gen forms. We got meetings with about 50 people at $25-$50 a pop. Be very personal and transparent - there are lots of somewhat bored professionals out there who would love nothing more than try out your app and give you feedback.
Another option is to sponsor a professional mixer event in your area. Depending on the event, you might be able to get a 5 minute speaking spot for less than a few hundred bucks.
I'd love to learn more about how you set that up. Could you link to some of those Lead Gen posts if they are still available or share some more info about your approach?
I cannot recommend The Mom Test enough. Probably the best book about having early conversations with customers.
Facebook has a good audience for tech early adopters, but you have to put up with a lot of garbage leads. Nothing quite comes close to the ROI of the LinkedIn Lead Gen form
I got over 1000 users with just some sharing to a small FB group; this was mostly from them sharing the app to their friends as well. We did some paid marketing to the same group and got 3000+ users, about 3% of whom were willing to pay.
If your biggest competitor is already well funded then you might want a niche that's below their radar.
For example, I didn't like Asana because it was too slow and had too many team features I didn't need - I just wanted some checklists that were fast and used keyboard shortcuts. I ended up using Sublime Text plugins do this. Later, Workflowy fit the bill perfectly.
(i) In your case you need to somehow find this high density potential early user in-person gatherings. You can for instance hang out in a non-generic co-working space where you know it is the choice for digital nomads etc. in your city.
(ii) This is somewhat under-rated but you really can crawl the network of people you know ad infinitum. You only need few people you know who are productivity obsessed to start with. And then always ask them "who should I chat for 15 mins. to get feedback on this etc. (I would suggest crafting this ask really well so that it doesn't come off as demanding. Try to genuinely give value at every interaction, that's how I enjoyed the process as a hardcore introvert.). I spoke to about 5-10 people every week and ended up with a decent community of early users in <3 months.
More generally, if anyone has an idea for a side project or a startup that they're thinking about at the moment, and they don't have an answer to the question of "What's the route to market for this?" then you should seriously consider answering that before writing a single line of code or designing a single screen. Thousands of amazing startups run out of money and shut down because they couldn't answer this question every year. It's important to figure it out as early as possible. It's the source of all your customers, your feedback from real users, and the life blood of your business - revenue.
Modern marketing is unfortunately siloed with a very narrow purview that is not at all close to covering the 4Ps, which is what marketing really should be about.
You're going to need to get 1000+ people to hit your site to get 100 beta users so just try to get some exposure in any relevant community you can. Asking for advice is a great way to share your product without coming off as too spammy, so I'd update your post with a link to your product ASAP!
The first one is The Mom Test which has already been mentioned here. But it's more about customer interviews which you usually do before you even start doing something.
And the second one is Traction written by Gabriel Weinberg founder of DuckDuckGo and Justin Mares. This book is highly relevant for a situation where you already have something and need to find your first customers. The great thing about this book is that it gives you a framework and a finite list of strategies that you can prioritise and execute one by one until you get traction.
1. HN or Reddit front page.
2. When I left a comment, no matter how stupid it was OP respnded positively.
3. I looked them up and followed on Twitter.
4. From time to time I will ask them more stupid things (aka advanced feature requests on beta products). Yet, they are consistently kind to me.
5. Because they are good people, I will plug their products whenever I can.
On point 1.
Understand the culture of where you are posting. I saw in a twitter thread where the founder spent several months building a product, even wrote their own programming language for it but when they posted on HN it barely got any votes. Then another HN user just posted the language aspect of the product and it made it to the FP. There is some definite patterns of success in places like HN and reddit.
Making it to FP isn't enough you have to have a discussion surrounding it.
- Writing content for your (potential) audience
- Hanging out and talking about the topic on reddit/Discord/Slack/HN/Twitter
- Setting my hotspot name to my project's domain name whenever I'm around techies or on long train trips
- Find any and all directories that might list products like yours
- Online ads
- Side projects as marketing (little tools that your audience might use, for free)
- Linkedin, talk to people you've worked with before
Interesting idea! How did you come up with it? Does it work?
No idea if it actually works though.
Same as using different toll free numbers when for different adverts to track performance.
If it isn't right for the HN audience, you should know who your audience are, and how to find them.
You can't build if you don't know who you are building for, so that should be your starting point.
@OP - drop us a link here anyway! I'd love to see your software, and by all means if it solves a problem for me, I'm ALL ABOUT throwing (reasonable) money at you! I'd much rather deal with human beings and small business than $GLOBOCORP_X for my day-to-day needs!
(Note: In my case, I do not request any money.)
Can it hurt? Maybe you'll get feedback, maybe you'll get nothing.
You need to just get out there and do something. Face your fear. Post a link. See what happens. Start talking to people.
If you think this is the hard part, it isn't. This is probably the easiest thing you are going to do.
It talks about how to find a group of people for your product early on and how to iterate from there instead of building it in the dark and then hoping that people will come once it's done and polished.
Asking how others are currently solving the problem your tool does is a good entryway. You can follow their answer with a suggestion to try your product if it sounds like it could be useful.
For more of a shotgun approach you can post on betalist, reddit /startups Share Your Startup thread, ShowHN, etc.
From what I've seen, productivity tools go down fairly well over there, so it may potentially be worth checking out.
I will point out that users don't seem to enjoy people who are _only_ there to sell to them, I'd recommend at least participating a little before you post. However, your mileage may vary.
1: https://feetr.io (yes, of course I'm going to shill it)
It took me 176 days to sign up 100 people to https://skilledup.life as Volunteers, which will help them to gain real Experience to improve their career prospects.
I started SkilledUp Life all by myself and went live on 1st Aug 2020. Then hired Mithun in Nov, when I really struggled to get traction.
I was only spending few hours per day on SkilledUp Life back then. Even with a full time employee, we could not get the numbers. Then we started to use our own Volunteers and started to build a team.
We had a simple goal of convincing 1000 people to sign up in the first 12 months. We achieved this task with great difficulty with 24 hours to go. We could not have achieved this without our volunteers. From month 10 to 12, we had a team of about 7 to 8 Volunteers if I recall, from Brazil to Philippines.
Today, we have 7,555 Volunteers from 85 countries. You can subscribe to https://skilledup.life for £30/month. Once subscribed, all talent is free.
You can then build a user acquisition team that could approach your target customers/users one to one to get the 100. Whilst they are working on this, you can add more volunteers to improve your website, write content, SEO, social media marketing, etc.
Your founder journey no longer needs to be as hard as mine was. All the best.
I am a bit lucky to have some product skills to identify the mental biases and traps that I fall into, and some friends help pull me back too. Other commenters have pointed out some of those problems:
- Look for positive signal from real flesh-and-blood customers who will give you real money. I printed out my content and had lunch with former colleagues to pick their brains on the topic. I kept doing small tests to check one single area of the final concept.
- Downscale. Downscale. Downscale. You might conjure up 100s of reasons why you can't dare approach the market with a faint shadow of your final vision but you need to do it to test that you aren't making a huge mistake. They will not love it. You will not make money. But you also will not waste time doubling down on a fantasy. Gumroad is good for this but I'm doing it on Shopify just by reducing my product to 10% of the content and printing 1% of the order quantity I need to make a real profit (so I will lose a few hundred, but I will validate if I should spend a few thousand)
- Figure out how to market. You want to do this because this is a form of your "sales funnel" and how you will actually identify who you want to attract, how to do it, where to go, etc. I'm highly unskilled in this topic but I'm using a book called "The 1‑Page Marketing Plan" which helped me structure a lot of things that I had observed in life and start to build a proper plan in steps that was logical and connected. It's not the best book ever, but it is good enough to get oriented and do something logical.
I certainly hope others will want to use it and pay for it, but it's liberating not focusing too much on what other people want (or claim they want).
I’d therefore recommend thinking where your users are on the web / what they are searching for and try to join active discussions where your product might be relevant.
PS: I just realized I’m trying to do exactly that in HN right now :D
It’s worked quite well.
In my case, most of the early adoption for my products have been through in-person interactions. Both B2B and B2C. I’m not sure what your product is, but to take a gander, I’d probably just ask friends who worked in startup or corporate jobs if I could stop by their office and show off what I was working on. Then I’d probably offer a trial to anyone who showed interest while I was there and offer to extend their trial if they find friends or colleagues who were interested in trying it out themselves. If you have a bit a flywheel effect through that, then you know you’re on to something.
- I post my projects on SideProjectors - https://www.sideprojectors.com - it's a marketplace for selling side projects, but you can also showcase yours as well.
- I use Newsy - https://newsy.co - and create content aggregators about my topics related to my projects - it gains SEOs and traffic and also finds users to sign up to newsletters and updates. Then I reach out to them.
- I use Tash - https://tash.app - and use my Twitter account to get followers and also get leads.
It's their only other post on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/submitted?id=zhangruinan
They discuss it at https://medium.superus.space/my-ideal-solution-to-informatio...
First off you need to put it in your profile if it's ready for public view.
Don't wait too long to put up a website.
Describe the features and add a early sign up form to collect email addresses.
Once I have more information, I can give more specific advice.
That helped me get users from those (many individuals) who regularly browse such websites. In fact, there are others who develop for the mobile apps stores who have reported similar stories; the market looks "ready-made".
In my case, this was enough to give Flookup the initial boost it needed.
Finding your first users should be your #1 priority.
You should not have time for anything else but this.
Otherwise it looks like a hobby and why do you care finding users in the first place?
Do not expect any link(s) you post there to see any traction, unless you're friends with "influencers".
ProductHunt, Hacker News, Sub Reddits are great avenues to find those groups. Another avenue is conferences.
> The definition of a market niche. This is one of the most important lessons I learned from reading "Crossing the Chasm." It has a somewhat complicated definition of a niche, but since then I've had a lot of luck just taking the gist, roughly: If you can name a conference attended by a particular group of people, that group is a market niche. If there isn't such a conference, it's almost certainly not a niche. For example, let's say you were making a web site to help people find a lawyer. "People looking for lawyers" is a market segment, right? Wrong. There's no "I'm looking for a lawyer" conference. Lawyers are probably a market segment (although arguably, not all types of lawyers go to the same conferences). But everybody needs a lawyer eventually, and that's not a niche, that's everybody. "Startups who need lawyers" (lots of startups need lawyers and go to the same conferences, eg. StartupWeekend) are a market segment, as are building contractors and organized crime lords. Maybe you can help them find lawyers.
That said, you must definitely not build in a vacuum unless you have a very good intuition for what people want.
> Your competition is whatever customers would do if you didn't exist. Let's say you're making software for producing cool graphs of statistical data. There's already really powerful software that does this, but nobody in your market segment uses it for some reason; maybe it's too hard to use or too expensive. That software is your competitor, right? Wrong! That software is irrelevant. Your customers don't want it, so even if it's competing with you, it's already lost. Your customers are probably using either Microsoft Excel's horrible chart features, or giving up and just not making charts at all. So your competitors are Microsoft and apathy, respectively. Apathy is probably going to be the tougher one. To find your list of competitors, just ask yourself what options your customers think they're choosing between. Ignore everything else.
Most tech related products these days use Open Source as a means of marketing and generating demand. Innovators and early adopters come flocking to it, at which point their focus should shift to making their position count via carving out a market leadership position (with strong base already established in a narrow enough niche: think Cloudflare and DDoS; Amazon and books; AWS and Compute+Storage; Facebook and colleges; and so on). Also, consumer (marketing) and enterprise (sales) software require very different mode of customer acquisition, unless you can blend both those in (which is easier said than done )
 https://archive.is/R7jqw (how our free plan stays free, tailscale.com)
See also: https://hbr.org/2016/09/know-your-customers-jobs-to-be-done (know your customers jobs-to-be-done)
Related discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29691811
I know this probably isn't what you want to hear, and you've probably heard this advice before. I was like that too, and I ignored it. But it really does seem to work.