According to research conducted by CB Insights on 101 startup postmortems, the #1 reason new startups fail is because there is no market need for the product/ service on offer.
This problem is so prevalent across the startup scene that the infamous tech accelerator Y-Combinator adopted “make something people want” as their slogan.
Entrepreneurs are some of the smartest and most solution-oriented people on earth. How is it possible that many of them are building things no one wants?
The problem stems from the question.
They’re building- not talking.
Entrepreneurs are so product focused that they typically jump from idea to solution. They skip right over discovery which is the phase in which, if they had talked to customers they would have recognized that the problem they’re solving doesn’t exist, isn’t a major issue, or won’t actually be solved by the thing they’re working to build.
Talking to customers is an essential and critical first step. But it’s a hard step to accomplish because it requires a lot of manual work. The hardest part of that process is finding potential customers to talk to.
With this problem in mind, I scoured the internet to learn about the options available. Here is a list of the top 10 places I found.
You can learn a lot from simply watching what people in your target market post, comment on, and like. But, if you’re looking to do customer discovery- you have to connect with individuals and interview them. I’ve found that some social platforms are better for this activity than others.
First, you need a clear hypothesis of who is in your target market, what they do for work, and where they live. From there, you can use the advanced search feature to find people with a specific job description and you can even filter more specifically by geographic location. Reach out to them with a quick one-liner about yourself and the ask: a 20-minute interview to discuss “x” problem. Don’t mention your solution or you’ll risk biasing the interview.
Use the search feature and hashtags to target people and posts related to your target industry. If you’re launching a travel product, for example, you might search #takemeback which is a common hashtag used by people who post pictures/ memories about recent vacations. Once you find a person who fits your target profile, you can DM them with a quick message about you and the problem you’re trying to solve. Wrap it up with an interview request and you’re good to go!
LinkedIn or Facebook groups- Free:
Use your industry keywords to find groups on LinkedIn or Facebook. Then join those groups and interact with the community. Ask them questions from which you can learn answers about the problem you’re solving.
For example, if I wanted to launch a meal delivery kit- the problem to be solved might be: people don’t have time to grocery shop and plan meals.
I might ask the community about the hardest part of meal prep and planning. When people answer your question, you can follow up with them personally with a “discovery interview” request.
Reddit (5 Sub-reddits)- Free:
Reddit is great because it’s all about conversation and the members tend to be brutally honest. It’s a very entrepreneur-focused platform and many of the “groups” (called subreddits) are focused on startups.
With Reddit, there are rules about what you can post in the forums and how you have to structure the post. Be sure to read those and comply or your post will be removed. Once you ask a question or submit a post- follow up with the accounts who respond.
The downside of Reddit is that you can’t search for individuals using filters and most people don’t use their real name as their username, so I would think about Reddit more as “anonymous feedback” rather than a place to conduct user interviews but, I have had many meaningful discussions with the users on that platform- there are humans behind those screens after all.
Quora is a question-and-answer platform. Essentially, people come to Quora with a question, and others on the platform answer that question. This is a platform that can definitely be used to gather customer feedback. Most users are genuinely looking to help others by providing useful insight and answer questions in their domain of expertise.
To go back to our travel example, let’s say you’re launching an app that helps solo-travelers find each other and meet up. You would search Quora for questions related to your problem space (perhaps- how does it feel to travel alone). Read the answers and contact those members.
To use this platform for primary research, simply submit the question you need answered (try to keep it problem focused- not solution focused) and wait for responses to come in. You will learn a great deal from the answers people give- but you can also follow up directly with a message asking if a user might be willing to do a short interview with you or answer some survey questions.
PickFu- $50 for 50 responses
PickFu is a platform that rose to popularity for it’s split (A/B) test capabilities. The founders originally wanted help choosing a logo so they put variations of it up against each other and let users choose the one they liked better. They’ve brought the product a long way from rudimentary polls though.
PickFu now works as a paid survey engine. You submit your questions, choose your target audience (and here you can get really specific- beyond the basic demographics you chan target Amazon Prime Members, Mobile Gamers, Married People, Fiction Readers, and Dog Owners), and then PickFu gets to work finding people to take your survey. They work with third-party providers to pull people from your target market and get you answers in near-real-time.
Paid Ads > Typeform or Landing Page- $ — $$
This is less of a platform and more of a “hack”. Essentially, you develop a simple form (you can use any survey maker but Typeform is the most widely used) or landing page (I like to use getresponse for this because they have pre-made landing page templates but there are many options).
Once your page is set up, you need to drive traffic to it. Technically you don’t need to use paid ads for this as you could just link to it from any social media post or blog article you write, but paid ads is faster and lets you customize the target audience so you’re only driving “good” traffic to your page.
Have a sign-up box or some other call to action which motivates users to input their email. Lastly, follow up with these people individually. The goal is to secure a 20–30 minuet time slot where you can interview them.
The Goal is to Get Moving
In order to build things people want, you have to talk to people.
There is no workarounds or easy ways out. Talking to potential users can be exhilarating because those conversations are likely to fuel your conviction.
If you learn that your potential customers don’t have or don’t really care about the problem you’re solving, that is also great news because it saves you months of work. The goal is to get moving. You don’t have to set up hundreds of interviews or practice a script- you can simply contact people who are in your target market and ask them about the problem you’re trying to solve.
You will, without a doubt, be surprised from your learnings and the process will help you make a much better product in the end.