How We Rode 167 Customer Interviews to a Validated Launch

Stop building, start listening

Michael Sacca
Nov 12, 2013 · 5 min read

Stop what you’re building right now and ask yourself a simple question: How many people have I validated my ideas with? If your answer is less than 10 you may have a rude awakening in the near future.

Now I‘m typically not one to fill my day with meetings. Being interrupted in the middle of my workflow to switch tasks takes a cognitive toll, especially when it happens multiple times a day.

But for the last four months that’s exactly what my team and I did, and it has paid off massively.

Validating Your Idea

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in the past is to build, build, build without ever testing to see if it is something worth building.
When we first set out to validate our idea for our brand asset management solution, Brandisty, we wanted to get in front of our target audience as quickly as possible. Armed with little more than a prototype, we arranged to pitch it in front of 100 designers at ValioCon (Thanks Drew!) to see if it resonated.

It did.

But we weren’t satisfied with just our ideas & assumptions. We wanted to actually solve the problem that designers & brands were facing.

But we didn’t start building. We started listening.

Everyone on the team got involved reaching out to people in our network — mainly creative directors, freelancers, & startup founders — to get 15 minutes of their time and to talk about the issues that they were experiencing around brand assets.

We didn’t pitch our solution to them — we listened to their problems

On a typical call we would give them an overview of the problem we were trying to solve and then ask them what they were currently doing for a solution.

At the end of each day we’d compare notes and stories, piecing together the various ways in which our prospects were currently storing and distributing their assets. We quickly discovered the bottlenecks in their collective creative process.

I must say, these conversations were not easy. They often challenged our assumptions and forced us to consider features we didn’t necessarily want to build. I continuously found myself trying to fit my ideal product into their story. But it didn’t always fit.

This helped us encounter issues before we built the wrong product — and really understand what product we should be building.

We found ourselves asking simple questions, but ones that we had never asked ourselves prior to building a product before.

  • What problem are we solving?
  • Who are we solving it for?
  • Who are our customers?
  • What do they need?

Identifying Your Customers

At the end of each conversation we’d wrap up with a pricing discussion to gauge the perceived value of our product. Even though they’d only seen a glimpse of what we were building — it was enough to get some general comparisons and see how much they were willing to pay.

Pricing discussions are not always easy, I have certainty fumbled through my fair share. But they are absolutely necessary. The sooner you have them, the sooner you’ll be able to figure out where you fit in the market.

For us, we found that our assumptions were largely wrong. Brand owners had a much higher perception of value for the product than agencies, who are typically fielding the requests surrounding brand assets. This gave us the opportunity to modify our offering before launching it publicly.

After a couple weeks of talking to people we were not only able to focus our product, but we knew exactly who we were building for (and more importantly, who we were not).

Switching the conversation

When we started beta testing the actual product we watched them setup their account, testing the UI, and asking for feedback on their experience. While this is of course essential, the most critical part for us was when we switched the conversation.

Switching the conversation allowed us to test our sales channels and validate whether we had actually built a product that was valuable to our audience.

In order to switch the conversation we had to change the way we approached each conversation. Initially we’d watch them setup their account. To change the conversation, we setup their account for them beforehand. This way, we were able to focus on showing them immediate value. The conversation permanently shifted from people donating their time as UI beta testers to becoming customers and advocates of an actual working solution.

Once we focused on the value — the sales process became natural

Our first sale actually caught us off guard. We’d been able to show enough value in the beta product that we were able to sell it before we had integrated Stripe. We wrote our first sale down on the back of a napkin.

Once we were able to sell the product from private beta — we knew our 167 conversations had paid off and we were ready to go public with it.

Launch Day

Last Thursday we opened Brandisty to the public and all the hard work paid off. With no marketing budget behind the launch we were able to generate genuine excitement around the product.

I can’t underestimate how beneficial it was for us to spend time with the people who we wanted to be our customers. The product we set out to build and the product we’re building today is very different, thanks to those who took the time to tell us their story.

If you’re looking to improve your teams communication, I co-founded WithCircle and if you’re looking for more tips on growing your business I co-host The Rocketship Podcast where we cover business topics from early growth to funding and everything in between.

I’m on twitter @michaelsacca.

Thanks to Matt Goldman and Joelle Goldman.

    Michael Sacca

    Written by

    Director Business Development and Marketing at Host of Follow Me @michaelsacca