1,000 Sign-Ups Before Launching a Product

Alexander Beletsky
Sep 25, 2015 · 5 min read

In the middle of May 2015, I’ve launched my “Minimum Desirable Product”, the story of launch and initial validation can be found here.

At the moment about 1,000 people signed up with SocialSearch.io, 500 participated survey, about 50 of accounts served.

Let me share the major lessons and discoveries I’ve got so far.

Talk to your customers

You probably heard that a million times already, as I did. But please give me a second.

With my first failed attempt of a building company, I totally neglected the fact that goal of a startup is to make something that people want. How come you are sure things are on the right track, without talking to the people. Doesn’t matter what kind of business you are starting, B2C or B2B the validation of the problem and value proposition should be the first step.

The image from “Talking to Humans” book.

Being highly introverted, picking up the phone or calling someone’s Skype was a nightmare to me. I could not imagine myself of talking to a person I don’t know, to validate the idea or to “pre-sell” my solution.

I was relying on emails and surveys, thinking it might help me to understand customers. It doesn’t work that way.

Getting Out of Comfort Zone

Fortunately, one of the early adopters proposed me to jump into the call, and I agreed to do that. Did I nervous before that call? Oh yeah, I did.

But guess what? After I had the call, I wasn’t dead. I wasn’t feeling bad. In contrast, I felt great and motivated since I got the response that something I’m building is interesting to another person.

I became more proactive and instead of waiting someone ask me to talk, I was proposing to jump into the call. Now, I better understand what “Getting out of the building” means! For four last weeks, my calendar looks like that.

Talking to people is important

I try to have at least one or two interviews per day. That’s not enough, and I wish I could do more. But even having that, I now understand my customers better, I know which features they need, I can define the scope of MVP more precisely.

It’s not that hard or scary, as it seems.

Build Your Partnerships Early

Let’s take a look on a Business Model Canvas. Can you see the left most column there, called “Key Partners”. It’s a really important one.

My vision of the product is quite big. But trying to build a product according to that vision, would be a suicide. Instead, try to think what partnership could be valuable to you, especially in the early days.

In my case, I depend on data and marketing automation tools, so my goal was to talk to the companies and understand possibilities of a partnership.

My big learning was, whatever you talk to founder or sales manager in potential partner company you’ll get a lot of value out of it. While talking to founders, I’m always asking about a history of a company, how did they started and grew. Talking to managers is highly valuable, since they likely to spoken hundred guys like you, they might give you some great advice.

Moreover, getting in touch with partners and understanding both value and price is crucial for validating a finance model of your business. Understanding the costs, would allow you to see if the pricing works, and if business model works in the long term.

Concierge MVP

There is a great podcast on building and executing MVP’s that I highly recommend listening. There are several types of MVP approaches you can take.

Concierge MVP is all about experience, not yet a real product. It’s a cool technique that gives you the ability to understand if the experience you are trying to sell satisfies customer’s needs.

In my case, I had a bunch of scripts (that pretended to be my backend) and a very simple front-end application, which demonstrated the dashboard and simple features you could do with data.

Obviously, no one is going to buy it. But, the goal of any MVP is maximizing of learnings, not getting revenue. I got a lot of information out of this.

The Concierge MVP goes hand-in-hand with a manual onboarding process. With all the sign-ups I had, I manually picked up guys, preferring ones who registered business email accounts, instead of gmail accounts. If they were showing initial interest, participated survey and few follow-up emails, I just asking “Are you in?”.

Manual onboarding process

100% of people responded “Yes!”

But, once I got back with “backed” account the response rate I got was miserably low.

There are reasons for that, first of all, I was quite slow in getting back to those guys. You have to be fast otherwise people are leaving the line. It also showed symptoms of the solution I was proposing is not good enough.

All feedback you can get from “Concierge MVP” should be directed to shape the scope of real MVP.

Think Acquisition Channels

I’m a big fan of Traction book. One of the major things that book claims, traction development have to go in parallel with product development.

It’s totally true, but you should be careful with that. Putting too much energy, resources, and money into traction development on early stage could turn to pouring water into a leaky bucket.

It’s way better is to have small PR campaigns that could bring a quality traffic to your site. For me, it’s BetaList that worked quite good.

The product also got mentioned by DuctTypeMarketing and LaunchingNext.

Referral Traffic

For the first few months it’s important to drive traffic to a landing page and check conversions, but likely it should not be the main focus.

Still, it rather important to have a sign-ups, cause it’s only way to have valuable data out there.

Keep Close to Smart People

Expand your circles, reach as many people as you can, ask questions. Especially if you are solopreneur. Smart people around could not replace co-founder or team, but it can be treated as some extension, that keeps your vision broader.

Take advantage of “distributed knowledge” around you. I’m sticking to podcasts much, “Marketing for Founders”, “Startups for the Rest of Us”, “The Startup Chat”, “The Pitch” are very valuable and motivating.

Avoid fools, talking to them is highly toxic.

If you liked that article, please consider to recommend it. I’m open for advice and talks, feel free to contact alex@socialsearch.io

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