This guide is about the “Hurdle.”

It was out of pity that 3 out of 256 users paid for my product when it was ready for use. I had met with over 600 potential users of RecyclerSpotter, a platform that rewarded users for their eco-friendly actions, before 256 users joined the wait list and seemed eager to see RecyclerSpotter in action.

Only 3 of them paid for the premium version when, if I recall correctly, over 150 selected Premium in my surveys and interviews. As a side note, RecyclerSpotter rewarded users for recycling. Revenue was generated from recycling facilities as users visit these companies for recycling.

What happened to the rest, 147? I was expecting that 30-50% will want to try the free version before converting but certainly not almost all of them! In fact, I only spent over 6 months building the full product because the response I got from my interactions with potential users. My original plan was to build as simple as a WordPress site with interesting information about recycling, reusing and reducing, collect email addresses, sell ads to recycling companies then build a software as a service platform with mobile apps once I get some traction.

Why would anyone mislead a person when they know they are not interested in buying the product? It took me a while to understand that people are not looking to “mislead” anyone per se, it is simply that they,

-Are Nice. Most people are nice. In fact, to give you their time for an interview, it’s because they are nice and they usually end the conversation nicely with something like, I’d love to see it up and running, I’d love to create an account, ask my friends to join, hey, I know someone who would be interested to join, etc. Nice is misleading and one cannot build a business out of it.

-May have other priorities by the time the product is out. Depending on the duration of the period from the time they express interest till the time product launches, things can change. Budget, short term plans, commitments, and other circumstances can change their priorities and interest in the solution.

-Can’t fully imagine how the product will function. Unless you show a functional product or a high-fidelity prototype, interviewees cannot build a clear picture as to how the solution will exactly function and solve their problems. They may have an idea in mind which may be, and in fact usually turns out, different from your vision of the product.

-Look for social proof. Others want to make sure they’re not the only ones using the product. they look for confirmation and social proof. RecyclerSpotter turned to profitability when I showed proof.

Through this guide, you will almost know exactly (minor things change from concept to concept) how to test the real and truthful intentions of your potential buyers almost without writing a line of code and in no longer than one month. You will find techniques, strategies, tactics, examples and tools you can use to EXECUTE on your ideas right away.

There is one major benefit from the approaches below and it is based on the fact that Time is Money. People won’t waste your time, if you don’t waste theirs and vice versa.

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Before we get into the actionable part of the guide, there is a framework I must first introduce you to or remind you of because it will make a big difference in your understanding of customer acquisition and growth beginning with the first paid customer.

“Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers”, by Geoffrey A. Moore has one big lesson to teach: not all customers are created equal. It is the idea that the first customers to adopt and pay for your products and services are different from those who do it later when your company gains recognition, credibility and product features are “complete.” The Chasm, gap between the early and mainstream market, is what differentiates the small players from the big companies.

Early stage startups must keep the mainstream market in mind but focus on grabbing the attention of the innovators (technology enthusiasts) and visionaries. It is the group that doesn’t expect a perfect product and is characterized by interest in new technologies; they want to be the first to have the latest solutions in their area of interest, if we are targeting enterprises, then it is the group of companies that seeks a competitive edge and constantly look for new ways to improve their performance. Crossing the chasm framework helped me connect the dots about user acquisition and growth. It provided me with a compelling answer as to why not everyone who promised to buy, bought.

This was a brief introduction or reminder of the customer adoption life cycle. It is a must know for every entrepreneur.

This guide is about the early market. I see no value in discussing the strategies, tactics and methods for adopting the mainstream market if we are a few steps away from needing to cross the chasm. Later guides will address crossing the chasm in more details.

let’s get to it.

For maximum clarity, I will begin with what has become common sense; the traditional step by step approach to starting and building a business. In other words, the business development approach that you learn in business schools, read about it in classic books and posts, and more predominantly, it is the way you see businesses open and close around you and through stories you hear from family, friends and acquaintances.

The Traditional Small Business Development Roadmap

To start a restaurant, you want to come up with a menu, project expenses, identify who your buyers will be, existing restaurants (competition), who you need to hire, at what point you will start making a profit, your prices, location, etc. You need a business plan. Once you have a reference plan, which by the way doesn’t necessarily have to be fancy, a hundred page long and colorful, in fact I met millionaires who used a sheet of paper and a pen as their business plan but mostly because of their vast experience building businesses. Once you have the reference, you want to make sure you have the resources you need to make the plan (idea) come to reality. More specifically, we are looking at the financial side of the business. Do you have enough money to start the restaurant and run it for at least 6 months? If you do, you are ready to go to the third stage and if you don’t, you look for other means like loans, investment or borrowing from family and friends.

With a plan and an investment, you are ready to sell. Build/obtain products/services for sale in the case of restaurants is about making sure you have the necessary skills and/or team to cook. For other companies that sell other types of products/services, it be can contracting with wholesalers if your plan is to open a grocery store, or with manufacturing companies if your plan is to sell a product you invented.

With a plan, investment and a product/service, small businesses are now ready to sell. The next step is usually in offering the product for sale by leasing a space in town, building a website or simply contacting buyers directly if the plan is not to sell directly to consumers rather to a middle company (such as retailers) who expose the product to potential buyers.

Building a small business is not easy per se, there is just a higher degree of certainty. Here is why. If you want to open a restaurant and have no clue as to what steps you need to take from start to the first sale, you can copy the exact same steps that another successful restaurant owner took and you will likely succeed in taking the restaurant idea to market and making the first sale. If you want to start a grocery store, clothing store, ice cream stand, hair solon, coffee shop, etc. you can follow others and you will most likely make it to the sales stage.

The traditional small business development roadmap is less uncertain because it has been proven successful over and over again. But more specifically, it is because customers know what they want and will purchase if products/services are satisfactory and well (customer service) and easily (product/service accessibility) delivered.

What happens when customers don’t have a benchmark to follow? what happens when new innovative products/services are introduced and there is no one to follow? what happens when we cannot predict the future and thus cannot back our projections in the business plans we need to create as an initial step? This is the startup world. This uncertainty is the reason behind entrepreneurs’ failure to not only build a product/service that people are willing to pay for, but more predominantly in taking the first steps. Most entrepreneurs have so many questions and sometimes even more answers that they just decide to “do nothing.”

Almost two decades ago when the tech bubble burst, the startup world learned a lesson the hard way. Back then, many startup founders raised hundreds of millions of dollars with just an idea/concept and most of them went all the way to the stock market with huge losses and for some, not even a single dime in revenue. The startup ecosystem back then treated innovative startup ideas from a small business stand point by following the traditional small business development roadmap while ignoring the fact that unlike small businesses, innovative startups are building something customers are not familiar with (unlike a restaurant). Most startups back then assumed that customers are waiting in line.

As a way to minimize risk and reduce uncertainty, most startups no longer spend months and sometimes over a year building the perfect product while convincing investors about how successful it will become, instead, they started to take it one step at a time beginning with as little as a prototype. 

The Traditional Startup Development Roadmap

I couldn’t have put it better than Sean Kim.

Prototypes are meant to shorten time to market. Building a prototype can get entrepreneurs in front of the early market we discussed above a lot of faster and by burning less resources. With some early validation, startup founders have some proof and can back up their claims when meeting with investors. The investment usually goes to building a strong startup foundation that is usually supported by a team with complementary skills and shared vision and passion. This team will be responsible for building a strong product for market validation and growth.

Do you see any problem with this approach?

First, under this approach, entrepreneurs start with the riskiest and most time-consuming activities before making sure there is a market for the solution in the first place. Creating a prototype and getting positive feedback doesn’t make a business out of an idea so the use of a prototype for market validation is insufficient. Second, funding is very time consuming and getting funded is still not a proof for market adoption. Additionally, building an A star team is becoming increasingly challenging given the alternatives that talents have in the marketplace which makes the chances of early stage startups recruiting good members low. The point is, entrepreneurs’ blood, sweat and tears will go to activities that are very valuable over the long run but don’t have an influence on idea validation over the short term. In other words, entrepreneurs can secure funding, hire the best team, build the best product and still fail. Thousands of startups failed this way and many more to come. This approach is in fact very similar to one of the most discussed topics in startup development; co-founders. Most non-technical founders spend months looking for a technical co-founder thinking that the technical side is the missing key to success. There is a whole guide about the value of non-technical founders in building scalable startups without code.

Back to our startup development roadmap. There is a better way! And interestingly, it is the flip side of the traditional approach.

The Flip Side Of The Traditional Roadmap

The idea is that if we can validate the idea using several techniques and tactics quickly, then get another layer of validation using prototypes and smaller versions of the full product, we will be able to attract the best talent sooner and raise funds quicker for a healthier growth.

Based on my own humble experience and the experience of thousands like me, most survey respondents checking Yes to would you use the product? is not a strong enough sign of validation. Most of interviewees saying that they would use and pay for the product is not strong either. Pulling money out of their pocket is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, validation signal you will ever find. The question is, if I am not going to build a complete product or even a prototype, how can I know if people would pay? the answer to this question is the core of this guide.

There is one rule to work by:

The more effort potential buyers are willing to put just to obtain your product, the higher the degree of validation you will have, with Money being the strongest sign.

Before asking for people’s commitment (money, email addresses, referrals, etc.), there is some homework and simpler tasks to do.

1) Idea

It may be obvious that nothing can be done without an idea but it doesn’t hurt to refresh our memory from the idea generation guide.

An idea is a solution to a particular problem. Airbnb founders had an idea to solve the lack of hotel rooms problem, Uber founders had the idea to solve the Taxi finding problem, Amazon founders had an idea to solve small local market problems by opening doors to sell online everywhere in the world, etc. Ideas are a response to problems that the founders face or some people around them experience on a consistent basis.

The startup product if you think about it is essentially the idea or the solution. So, once you have the idea and you made sure that others like you would benefit from this idea, find them and go speak with them.

As a side note, one simple way to learn more about your buyers or find a preliminary answer as to who would be willing to buy, check online communities that relate to your idea, see what people are praising or complaining about, read between the lines, and finally check Google Trends for a quick analysis about interest over time, interest by region, related topics and queries to see what people are looking for.

2) Interaction With Potential Customers

The customer interaction part of startup development is what we refer to as customer development. It is composed of customer discovery and validation.

Not a thousand. Only 100 potential customers/users is a good enough sample to test if, just like you thought, it is true that they have the problem and would benefit from the solution. The steps you would take are as follow and in this order:

  • Find 100 potential customers online, from your surroundings, existing users of competing products, and/or strangers (if you believe they would benefit from your idea). Email, call or directly stop them to kindly ask for 10-15 minutes of their time.
  • Before you meet with anyone, set a qualitative validation criterion. This is when you say, I have a strong support for my idea if 80% of interviewees deliberately indicate that the problem is big. If 60% say so, it is still a good sign to proceed. If less than 50%, there isn’t enough proof.
  • Do not tell them your idea at first. I usually say it’s a project I am pursuing as part of an assignment for ABC so I would love to hear about some of the challenges that XYZ (interviewees: business owners, landlords, etc.) are facing. Ask open ended questions and slowly drag them to discuss their biggest and most frequently recurring problems. The best scenario is when they say that the problem you had in mind is indeed a big problem for them. Remember not to pitch your idea, instead, let them pitch it for you; let them tell you I wish I found a solution for X.
  • Most likely, 100 interviews later, you will find one of these three outcomes: 1) what you thought was a big problem is indeed big, or 2) what you thought was a big problem, doesn’t come out as big after all, or, 3) problem Y is bigger than X (yours). In other words, they would be willing to pay for Y and not what you thought they needed (X). Make sure you restate the problem and discuss alternative solutions at the end of the interview. Again, let the conversation about possible solutions begin with them by asking open ended questions such as, what do you think will solve this problem? guide them towards finding a potential solution but don’t answer the question for them. Finally, it is extremely important to keep their contact information but first ask them if they would be interested to learn more about what you are building.

If 100 interviews later you are still not clear as to what exactly the majority would be willing to pay for, use the insights you got to start new conversations and explore new problems you may have not thought about. It may not be a straightforward task but a problem worth solving will present itself eventually. Everyone has problems! and remember this paragraph from the idea generation guide:

As vague as it may sound, one of the best ways to come up with good ideas it to keep an open entrepreneurial mind. The way many successful founders had their ideas was through external stimulus that hit a prepared mind. For instance, Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox was in an airplane when he realized he forgot his USB stick and thought, “I really need to make my files live online.” The aha moment may have hit many others like Drew but because his experience prepared him to notice entrepreneurial opportunities like this, he got an idea. The best advice is to notice, experience and keep an open mind. Ideas that grow naturally out of founders’ own experiences are organic and most likely to turn into success stories.

After numerous interviews, you realize that problem X is what people seem to care about the most. For the sake of the example, let’s say 70% of respondents claim to have suffered some kind of loss (time, money, energy, etc.) from the problem and a solution would make a tangible difference.

Is that really true? Do we go ahead and build a product for them to use? What if they don’t? What if they do?

If we don’t want to spend months building the perfect product, and we DON’T, there’s only one way to find out: MAKE THEM BELIEVE THE PRODUCT IS READY WHEN IT’S REALLY NOT. In an ethical way and only for testing purposes.

Did you know Bill Gates called Altair, a tech company, to sell them on a computer language that didn’t exist until Altair showed a lot of enthusiasm and interest so he went and built it, sold it then opened Microsoft?

This is the kind of creative testing I will expose you to below.

3) Are They As Interested As They Claim?

The objective, again, is to test their real intentions in solving a problem they claim to have. Although we cannot use the interviews to sell them on a nonexistent product unless it is so important for them that they decide to pre-order or help you build it sooner, we can pretend as if it existed and monitor their reactions. This can be done using multiple proven techniques and tactics.

Before we proceed, it is important to note that most of the methods below require potential buyers’ contacts. Entrepreneurs tend to invest in social media and Google Adwords marketing to grab user attention and get them to sign up or pay. I cannot emphasize enough on meeting in person or having a phone or skype call with as many of these buyers as possible. The call or meeting will not only provide you with insights that you would have hard time getting through emails and surveys but also it is an excellent chance to get and keep their contact information. 50-100 of those who claimed that the problem is big enough (70% of respondents) that they need a solution is all you need to test their real intentions using the methods below. Let us begin with Email.

Email Validation

It’s a funnel. Interviewees are now aware of you, they know you care about their problems, that you are working on a solution and that you will follow up with them with updates soon (things you should promise at the end of the interviews).

1) After the interview, email everyone with a thank you note, state the problem they mentioned they were facing, the solution that the majority proposed with your help, and an update that you and some qualified team are hands down building it. End the email by asking them a question such as, did I miss anything or is there something else that you wanted to add?

First validation sign: monitor response rate. Interested buyers, those who urgently need a solution, will respond and follow up with you.

2) Create a landing page that will serve as a proof to the email you will send below. Through this page, you will also get buyers’ payment and contact information.

The best landing page platforms I used are unboounce.com and leadpages.net. They don’t require any coding ability and you will be able to create and test (by creating more than one version for each page; look for A/B testing) converting pages within an hour.

3) Create a MailChimp account to track open and click through rates for emails sent.

4) Two weeks later, email them back.

“Hi [Name],

I hope everything is great with you.

About two weeks ago we had a discussion about better ways to improve XYZ and we concluded that ABC is a solution that would [benefit of the solution]. I am happy to announce that solution ABC is up an running and we’re calling it [name of the startup]. It will allow you to [list product features according to your conversations with them].

[Next: make an irresistible offer]As you know, none of the existing solutions offer these features or directly solve the problem. We want you to be the first to use it so we are happy to share this exclusive offer with you. What we will do is, 1) help you set up your account, 2) take you through all the features, 3) assign an account manager to answer your questions instantly through direct messaging or phone call, and 4) give you access to the Pro version for free in the first year.

We have 20 spots left and we want you to grab yours as soon as possible.

The product is priced at X dollars but because of the time you’ve given us to learn more about your business, needs and expected solutions, it is only Y dollars with 30 days money back guarantee.

Get your account set up by clicking the link below and message us directly whenever you are ready to get our assistance.

Yours truly,

Founder Name”

Your email will depend on your audience and products. If it is a social application targeted towards app users, you will then announce that they are ready to join and create an account. My goal is to expose you to different validation methods and it is based on your case that you will customize your messaging.

 

Second validation sign: look at the number of people who took the time to read your email and click the call to action button to register or make a purchase. 70 and 50 percent open and click through rates respectively are excellent numbers.

5) Announce Full Capacity

When users click the call to action to learn more and make a purchase,

  • Present them with a registration form that they have to fill before getting to the payment page.
  • Request from them to select a payment plan or add to cart for e-commerce products.
  • When they arrive to the payment page, they will find out that the demand has either reached its full capacity or the product is not quite ready. Depending on how you want to announce it. Here is an example from Buffer.

You don’t necessarily have to reject their money. You may accept the money and offer the service through one of the following strategies depending on the type of your solution.

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Get Manual

Products that look and feel real on the surface but are being “faked” on the backend are commonly referred to as hollow MVPs. The idea is that, if I can make users/buyers believe that core product features (most important features) are functional, they are more likely to use/buy it and, as a founder (team), I am more likely to understand how they use it and how the code/algorithm should look like when product development begins. A few examples will make the approach clearer.

Instead of building a coupon marketplace site and app, Groupon founders started with a WordPress blog and by manually sending PDFs with vouchers that they also created manually. Notice here the user/customer is under the impression that the algorithm is taking care of the logistics when it is the team who was handling it manually. This process by the way did not last long until they built their advanced web and mobile apps that helped them reach the second fastest company to ever reach a billion-dollar valuation in the world.

ZeroCater connects companies with restaurants that would cater. The approach they took was very similar to that of Groupon. A website for accepting orders while the core “matching” feature was managed manually through PDFs and phone calls.

Doordash is a food delivery service. The team took the same approach by receiving orders through their quickly built landing page and assigning orders to nearby drivers, starting with their friends, through phone calls and Find My Friend App.

Zappos, the e-commerce shoe and clothing shop, did not have a product at all when founders announced their company and purchased shoes as needed from local shoe retailers instead of stocking their inventory.

What about services where a complex backend is required?

In this case, use one of the four approaches below. The following approaches can still be used in products that don’t require complex offerings.

1) Get Manual. Yes, you can still get manual no matter how complex your logic is. Netflix started with a landing page announcing their service and for accepting movie requests and payments. They handled every movie request manually until the demand exceeded their capacity.  Another example includes a peer to peer money exchange platform for which the founding team processed all payment requests manually, including tracking payment and sending notifications for updates and confirmations.

2) Sell A Physical Version Of The Digital Product. For database, analytics, accounting and virtually anything that requires reporting, use the same logic as above. Allow users to input their information, request their email/payment information, prepare the report manually and email it to them personally. For example, Taylor Davidson from Foresight created a financial model for startups and investors. His approach to introducing the product was as little as a video of him using the excel model which he uploaded to YouTube then to a landing page he created. As number of downloads increased exponentially ever since he posted the models, Taylor started charging users for downloads and help in its customization which he does manually up until today, 17,600 downloads later.

3) Repurpose Existing Platforms. To simulate the service, you can rely on platforms that offer similar features to yours which may be solving other problems but can also be used for other purposes. Take the example of Facebook. Some of its features include sharing, messaging, profiling, listing, gaming, and grouping. If your solution includes one or a few of these features, think how you can leverage Facebook’s free platform to simulate your solution while doing as much manual work as you can. For instance, for ride sharing applications like Uber, you can use as simple as a social media page with a phone number for riders to call. One of the team members picks up the phone, learns about the location of the rider, uses Find My Friend app to locate the other team members or contractors, calls the closest person, and confirms with riders.

4) Use App Development Platforms. One of such platforms is Bubble.is. In no longer than a few hours, you can create a functional web or mobile app with features that may take you days and thousands of dollars to create. Many applications operated under such app development platforms until stages well beyond the initial testing phase.

The point is that by using some of the methods above, you can not only test interviewees’ interest through email and payment requests, but also offer the service for as long as you can before or while building an advanced solution that automates and scales growth with less uncertainty and better understanding of user needs. If you need and can build a customized product, use 3 weeks as your benchmark period. Meaning if you can build it in less than 3 weeks, do it.

It is important to note that enterprise solutions (when you sell to a company) are harder to validate without a product. The reason being is that the purchase decision in an enterprise, depending on its size, is not made by one individual rather a group of buyers. For instance, if you are trying to sell an accounting software to a company, you would think the accountants are those who choose and make the final decision. If we look closely, we find that the CEO, CFO, manager of the accounting department, and accountants to name a few are all part of the decision. Enterprises, especially big ones, won’t make a purchase unless the Gain/Pain ratio is 10X and the solution has proven to solve the identified problem. The Email Validation technique can still be used but we should not expect a purchase without a minimum of a trial period that most enterprises will require.

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This guide is mainly about testing interviewees’ real intentions and interests by requesting payment and some form of commitment. So, assuming we don’t have a product whatsoever nor will we simulate the experience, and our only objective is test their real needs. We interviewed them, collected their contact information, emailed them a thank you note, prepared a landing page, emailed them again announcing product launch, created urgency and requested payment, prompted them to create an account and select a payment plan and when they did, we announced full capacity. Two common questions at this point:

What about those who want to learn more before even starting to fill out their application?

In the real world and no matter how interested a person is, rarely will you find people providing their payment information without some research and further understanding of the product. This one has to be faked too. Over 70,000 is the number of signups to Dropbox as soon as they uploaded their demo video to their websites in their early days. The product was far from being ready and some argue it didn’t exist at all.

You can demonstrate how your products function using a demo video. Most people trust demo videos. But how do I create a demo video if I don’t have a product? use app development platforms such as Bubble, Treeline, Tilda Publishing, Webflow CMS, Webflow 3D Transforms, Proto or any other platforms you like to use. Most of these platforms do not require coding skills.

Once you create your fake version of the real product, record yourself using it while presenting its functionality to the public. Upload the video to your landing page and prompt users to watch it if they need more information.

Yes, you can still do it without a video. For this, create slick designs using Proto, Pidoco, Axure, or Photoshop if you can (you may also hire a freelancer through Upwork and other platforms), then organize your How It Works section or page in the site in a way that it well explains product functionality.

Can’t we just accept the payment and announce product launch some time in the future, say 2-3 weeks?

You sure can. Better yet, you can show one price and charge them a different one (less amount) if they are willing to wait the period you need. This approach was successfully used by Wufoo, acquired by Survey Monkey, to test different pricing levels.

You may be wondering that although landing page and video creation, registration form and emails are straightforward, payment customization is not. In other words, how do we ask for payment information and not charge? or how do we display a price and charge a different one? or how do we accept payment but only charge when the service is ready? For this, I have two possible solutions though I have not used the latter. 1) write the code either yourself, team or by hiring a freelancer, and 2) testing platforms such as Optimizely, Kissmetrics and Celery. TryCelery is a pre-ordering service that lets you accept payment and only charge when the product/service is ready for shipping/use. From experience, I learned that almost anything can be hacked without code. So, if you are a non-technical founder, familiarize yourself with the tools I suggested above and don’t hesitate to call their respective companies for some support whenever needed. Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from technical friends or hire a freelancer for a quick task or two. You should be able to follow all the steps above within one month; a period that is shorter than any platform you’d build from the ground up without any proof of demand. 

Third validation sign: It is obviously the money. How many of those who click the call to action button in your email proceed to payment and pay? Back to our customer adoption life cycle above, who do you think are more likely to pay? The enthusiasts and visionaries will be your first buyers so do not get discouraged if most interviewees don’t buy. The objective though is to convince as many of them as possible. So as a final note to email validation, keep in mind that

Follow up emails are a must. At the time you send your first email, chances are not everyone will get a chance to read it carefully or decide to read it later but the email gets lost among many others. Use Mailchimp reports and campaign features to send follow up emails based on open and click rates. Prepare your emails ahead of time. I suggest 4-6 emails in total. Starting with thank you note after the interview, product announcement, then multiple reminders with different messaging.

Email is not the only option. Below, I discuss a few other validation methods to test users’ real intentions and interests in the product or service. Depending on your product type and stage, pick the method that fits you the best and don’t hesitate to discuss your selections with me if you need my recommendations.

Webinar Enticements

Still without a product or service, webinars are an excellent way to presell, learn more about potential buyers’ needs and expectations and most importantly quantitatively evaluate their real intentions. The process goes as follows:

1) Everything starts with interviews. The best learning medium is one on one meetings. There is no way around this step even if you are the first user/buyer of the product. Follow the exact process as 2) Interaction with potential customers, above. With webinars, I usually use academic research as the reason behind my interviews. For instance, a couple of months ago, I asked for a few minutes of respondents’ time to answer a few questions about startup development as part of a research paper under the title: the factors that enable/hinder startup venture initiation. I did not invent this topic just for the purpose of getting in contact with respondents but after the fact, I realized that those who give you time to answer a few questions are usually interested in the topic and more likely to want to learn more about it. Some respondents are then invited to attend a webinar and learn more about the findings. Make sure you have an interesting topic in mind before interviewing people. At the end of the interview, ask respondents if they would like to hear the results and findings. Keep track of those who say Yes.

2) Email respondents right after the call with a thank you note and a summary of the things you discussed. Note that you will follow up with them soon.

3) Two to three weeks later, email them announcing some of your findings and a date to present everything all together. Obviously, you do not need a research paper as an incentive for people to attend. You can use anything that may be of interest to your buyers like how an existing tool can help them improve X. Get some insights from the interviews. I used research papers because it is something I have tried. Use WebinarJam or Google Hangouts for the webinar. Attendees can make direct purchases using Webinarjams. You may also use Celery (TryCelery) for pre-orders.

4) Prepare your presentation. Fill it with valuable insights and actionable content and end it with your product designs or take them through the demo just like we discussed above if you can. Ask for pre-orders in exchange of deep discounts. If it is something people really need, they will purchase. In fact I know an entrepreneur who sold $30,000 worth of product without a product and just a very well researched and qualitatively (through interviews) tested idea. During the webinar, encourage attendees to ask questions. This is a great opportunity to hear their needs and expectations.

5) Prepare follow up emails beforehand. The enthusiasts and visionaries will be the first to buy. Many of them will buy during the presentation and some of them will want to hear more and think about it. First, create urgency such as if you buy now, you can get X% discount. Second, follow up with another chance that expires within 24 hours. Follow up again with case studies and proof of pain and how the product will be the best solution there is. Combine it with money back guarantees to capture most of the early market (enthusiasts and visionaries).

Webinars are great for customer understanding and validation. With webinars, you may not even need a landing page. There is one rule to follow: be of value (provide them with insights, ideas and tools during the presentation) before you ask for value (pre-orders).

Check XYZ

With a landing page and some graphics or demo video explaining how the product (will) functions, you can use the check XYZ tactic to test users’ interest. The tactic was used by one of my friends. It gave him and the team great insights. The idea is that people are more likely to follow a recommendation if it comes from an outsider. Here is how it goes.

1) Identify potential buyers: conferences, meetings and meetups they got to.

2) Attend, network and discuss the problem. The team I mentioned above is building a platform that will automate a lot of the legal work behind starting and growing startups. During meetups, members of the team do not introduce themselves as founders rather entrepreneurs who are brainstorming ideas in a particular space. During conversations with other founders, they lead the topic to the legal part of building a startup and end the conversation by, did you check company X? X is their startup.

3) Get the contact information of those you introduced the service to for your reference and analysis.

4) Monitor their registration and payment. In the example above, the team was surprised by the response. Over 80% of users whom they spoke to created an account. In fact, more surprisingly, when they announced that they were the founders of the startup, registration went down dramatically.

You do not necessarily need to attend events to use the Check XYZ tactic. Personal blogging, guest blogging, forums, and commenting on related services would enable you to test users’ interest in a similar fashion as face to face conversations as long as you mention the service discretely in those forums. You may even use Reddit or Facebook Group to asking something like, I have been recommended to use XYZ, have you tried it? Would love to hear your recommendations.

Licensing

Some products require manufacturing, distribution and a lot of resources to get off the ground. Such products can be tested through prototypes, samples and in fact by using the exact same tactics above. In this section, I wanted to discuss an approach to selling innovation. This approach I learned from Stephen Key, an inventor, entrepreneur and speaker.

1) Regardless of product type, the first steps are always for customer understanding (interviews) and initial validation (email, webinars and Check XYZ).

With some demand, pre-sales and traction, move to step 2.

2) File a provisional patent for as little as $100.

3) Create a sell sheet: a designed page that includes a picture of your product and its functionality.

4) List potential license buyers and pitch them with the idea along with the traction and revenue you generated from your validation steps.

It takes Stephen as little as 3 weeks to go from idea to negotiations with potential buyers. Licensing can be a life saver for entrepreneurs who enjoy the invention side more than company building.

Crowdfunding

Also for inventors, with just a functional prototype, you can validate your invention and build it in response to demand though platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Crowdfunding can help you finance your own production. Once again, the initial validation process is the same. With that, you have the option of building the product and selling it by your own or licensing it in exchange of royalties.

Beta Sites

Websites like BetaList.com and BetaPage.co can put you in front of thousands who may be interested in your product. The only drawback about these sites is that you don’t get to filter your visitors and thus you may get a lot of sign ups from people who just passed by your profile and wanted to learn more about it. This doesn’t necessarily mean they cannot be converted into paid customers. Make sure you consider these sites.

ProductHunt

Many growth startups nowadays use ProductHunt as their launch platform. Users get to upvote you which can increase your exposure overnight. Startups launched through product hunt usually have at least a functional beta version of the product. Review some of these startups for a better idea as to what ProductHunt users expect.

Google Adwords And Facebook Ads

As part of your testing/validation efforts and campaigns, you may run a Google/Facebook ad for as little as $30 to grab targets’ attention to the page and evaluate their behavior. Your hosting plan should give you a Google Adwords credit of 50 or 75 dollars that you can use for the test. This is just another test that you can run.

 

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Build A $1000 Startup

Forget about a hundred million and billion dollar companies and start by focusing on building a $1000 startup with a repeatable and scalable model. When your focus and energy go to building the smallest version of your future million-dollar company, you get a lot of weight off your shoulder by concentrating on the basics. I guarantee you that a $1000 startup is much closer to a million dollar one than a team whose main focus is to reach mass market as soon as possible. Building a $1000 startup with a repeatable model, one that can be easily scaled, will teach you how to build a product that people love and are willing to pay for one little step at a time. Use the tactics and methods above to build such startup even though I am confident you will generate more than $1000 if you spend quality time interviewing people and learning about their most urgent needs.

As a final note to the guide, keep in mind that success cannot be hacked. We can be smart in our ways of learning buyers’ real intentions and willingness to pay but never will we be able to hack our way up the ladder without passing the ups and downs of building highly success startups. There are some stages that cannot be burned but if you are willing to persevere and stand up even after years of hard work building something you’ve put your heart and soul in and results didn’t come out as expected, you will make it happen.

What I Suggest You Do Next

1- Read the guide twice over two days. It takes a little bit of time to connect the dots. You will need some time to process the information and relate it to your ideas and plans.

2- Select each one of the tactics and methods in the guide then write how you can apply it to your ideas. Throughout this process, write your questions and comments down then email them to me all at once and I will make sure you are moving in the right direction based on my experience and knowledge in the area.

  • Access strategies you can instantly use to execute on your ideas and grow your startup regardless of how limited resources can be.

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