Guerilla Customer Development: 4 Unconventional Ways to Gain Customer Insights
If you know me and/or have been following my blog, you know that I’m a huge proponent of using customer insights to inform product decision. Customer development, the process of gaining such insights, can be practiced to generate startup ideas, test them, or improve existing ideas or product offerings.
The most common ways to gain insights are in-person interviews and surveys. While I do believe one-on-one, in-person customer interviews are best, the below techniques can be great supplements or starting points to gaining insights.
1. Solve Known and Essential Needs
“At a time when so many internet entrepreneurs are running around Silicon Valley trying to do something no one else has ever done, Williams believes that the real trick is to find something that’s tried and true — and to do it better.” - Evan Williams on product development
Uber is solving for the basic need of transportation. Twitter taps into people’s desire for validation and self-promotion.
People need food and are clearly willing to pay for it. Starting a food or beverage business does have many different challenges, but at least you know there’s precedent.
Distribution is another good one. If you can help a business get more customers, that’s probably going to be valuable because it’s an essential need of any business.
Starting with something that you know people want, instead of a new behavior, will save you some validation time.
2. Do What’s Working
You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel to build a great business. In fact, doing something that’s already being done can have many advantages.
You could replicate something companies are already doing successfully, differentiate in some way, and/or price it lower. If people are already using something, it validates that there’s real demand for it.
Youtube and Netflix have validated that people love consuming video content. Finding a new way to deliver video content would not be far-fetched. Amazon has validated demand for buying stuff online. Selling similar goods in a different way, could be profitable, and many ecommerce startups have proven it.
Facebook was not the first social network. There are countless banks and financial services companies.
There are countless social media consultants out there. Which proves that businesses need help with social media. If you’re qualified enough you could probably do the same thing.
3. Browse Quora
There are several types of content on Quora that can provide valuable customer insights:
Read review pages for products solving similar problems to you. There you can learn about what customers like and dislike about the product. You will get a better understanding of what value propositions resonate with customers. Look for questions like “What have people’s experience with product x been?” for similar insight.
Questions similar to “What’s the hardest part about [problem you’re solving]?” or “What’s the best way to [get value your offering]?” Can help validate your problem and solution hypothesis. Answers here can also help give you new startup ideas or inform you of problems that may be worth solving.
4. Scratch Your Own Itch
Some say the best startup ideas come from solving one’s own problems.
“Why is it so important to work on a problem you have? Among other things, it ensures the problem really exists. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.” - Paul Graham
Be observant of your day at work or outside of work. Look for tasks you find challenging or take a long time. Think of products or services that you wish you had. Solving your own problem may make you more motivated than solving someone else’s. Once you identify a problem you have or a product or service you want, do some customer development to determine if there are others like you who want it too.
When you are your own customer, you can be your own guinea pig, and you can get fast, high quality insights.
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9 lessons learned in the second half of 2013
This is the third of my lessons learned posts that I’ve been doing semi-annually. I find writing these posts help me internalize what I’ve learned. I consider these tidbits every time I have a relevant decision to make. I hope it helps my readers to condense six months of learning into sixty second read.
1. Startup ideas don’t come from thin air. They come from having domain expertise and/or being passionate and motivated enough to seeking out problems and opportunities.
2. A system for evaluating business opportunities, career plans, and startup ideas. There are endless opportunities. It’s not enough to identify an opportunity, it must be one that can be executed on.
3. Play to your strengths. Do what you have a competitive advantage in. Leverage the skills and assets you have.
4. A ton about internet marketing. Including how to drive traffic through content marketing, basic SEO, email marketing, and more.
5. The decision maker is always right. If they don’t think they need something they’re simply not going to pay for it. Adapt or do something else.
6. Having close relationships with friends, family, significant others, etc. is super helpful in dealing with the stresses of entrepreneurship and life.
7. Don’t make things complicated. Sell a product or service. It’s the most simple and obvious equation for making money. The service can be consulting or it can be a job. The product can be anything. Figure out what people need and if/how you can serve them, and do it. Do one thing well. Don’t be dependent on outside forces or factors outside of your control.
8. There will always be shit work. Anything worth doing is going to be hard. Sometime times you have to pick the lesser of evils, or the type of shit you’re willing to tolerate, and deal with it.
9. I really like writing :) Thank you all for reading and subscribing to my email list!
What did you learn this year? Let me know in the comments.
A New Definition of Wealth
Widening Wealth Gap
Services are being automated and globalized. Robots and drones are replacing human jobs. New technologies make old ones, and the corresponding jobs, irrelevant.
In this environment the wealthy and skilled have more opportunity to multiply their wealth and widen the gap between the poor. For example, with money, the wealthy can use brain power and time on higher value generating activities by outsourcing less value generating activities.
Fred Wilson and Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures have been writing about this trend I recommend you check out their posts for deeper analysis. In this post I’m not stating an opinion as to whether this is a good or bad thing for society and the economy. I’m merely commenting on and analyzing an emerging trend.
When defining wealth as assets owned or income, the gap between “rich” and “poor” is widening. However, I believe our definition of wealth is changing, and by the new definition, the wealth gap may not be widening as much as we think.
Freedom vs Assets
People are increasingly valuing freedom over assets or income. When and where you work, what you work on, and who you work for has value the same way how much you’re paid does. For example, being able to make your own schedule and work from anywhere in the world may be worth more to some people than doing the same work at a fixed schedule and location.
A New Breed of Entrepreneurship
Fiverr is an illustration of the widening wealth gap at work. At just $5 per gig, many of these gigs must be taking far longer than the appropriate hourly rate that would make it profitable by previous definitions of profit.
People can pay for these gigs to outsource business functions enabling them to create more and more wealth. As a simple example, I had the cover of my book designed for $5. It looks great in my opinion. I’m now earning revenue from selling that book on the Amazon marketplace. I’ve heard many people will even outsource the actual writing of the book. The person publishing the book will make significantly more than the person who actually wrote it. The publisher had the skills, capital, and risk tolerance to pay the ghost-writer, and the ghost-writer did not. The widening of the wealth gap at work.
However, the people providing services on a marketplace like Fiverr are micro-entrepreneurs. They work when, how, and where they want. They don’t have a boss, just customers. TaskRabbit, Fancy Hands, oDesk, Uber, and GetMaid are examples of technology driven networks that enable this new breed of entrepreneurs to generate income and achieve freedom.
The wealth gap is widening. Technology has enabled the wealthy and skilled to separate themselves exponentially from the poor and less skilled.
Society’s definition of wealth is changing, and by the new definition, the wealth gap may not be widening as much as we think.
People are increasingly valuing freedom over assets or income.
Technology enabled labor networks and marketplaces are enabling a new breed of “micro-entrepreneurs” to obtain greater levels of freedom.
2 Key ingredients for coming up with startup ideas
Through what I’ve seen and experienced myself, it seems domain expertise and passion are two of the most crucial ingredients for coming up with startup ideas and getting a company started.
There are opportunities everywhere…it’s just a matter of having enough knowledge to know what problems an industry or customer segment has, and being passionate enough to pursue solutions.
You can have domain expertise, but if you don’t have passion, nothing will happen. If you have enough passion, you can overcome lack of domain expertise. The two go hand in hand…to obtain domain expertise you probably have to be passionate about the domain.
Here’s what I mean by domain expertise and passion and the role each of these play in starting a company:
Domain expertise simply means knowing a lot about a certain area. It means having a deep understanding of a customer segment or industry.
At Startup School, Chris Dixon said the best startup ideas come through direct experience with technologies and/or problems.
In addition, domain experts often have existing industry and customer relationships. For example, CMOs know other CMOs, and have worked for companies that could be customers. Therefore, finding customers for customer development interviews, and to eventually sell/market to, will be easier.
A domain doesn’t need to be an “industry.” One could have “expertise” in the process of finding new restaurants, and therefore know the inefficiencies based on experience and how to solve them.
Starting a company is hard (surprise, surprise ha). It requires long hours building product and acquiring customers. Getting started may entail long periods of being broke. There’s a ton of uncertainty. Having passion helps push through all the challenges.
A startup is more than something you do from 9 to 5. It’s something you have to fully commit yourself to.
Even at the micro level of finding customers to interview. It requires stepping out of your comfort zone and making a lot of asks. You will have to ask your friends, family, and professional network for everything from sharing your stuff on Twitter to introductions to investors.
Some people can just put their head down and execute no matter what the situation, especially if there’s financial upside. But it seems for many people, that it requires being truly excited about something.
You might have a great idea, but if you don’t have enough passion to even go find a customer to interview, growing the company is probably going to pretty daunting.
With enough passion, I believe one can overcome a lack of domain expertise. With enough passion, one can dive in and learn faster, and be enthused enough to find customers, partners, etc.
Key takeaway: Startup ideas don’t grow on trees. They come from having domain expertise and/or extreme passion. To get startup ideas, think about where you have expertise or passion. Solve your own problems, or the problems of a group of people you’re passionate about.
Takeaways from @FredWilson’s talk at @LeWeb
I found Fred Wilson’s talk at LeWeb extremely interesting, so I wanted to share my notes and takeaways.
Fred described three macro trends that he and his firm, Union Square Ventures, see coming and use to evaluate investment opportunities. He gave examples of how each trend is manifesting itself, and then described four sectors he sees as being particularly ripe for opportunity.
1. Transition from bureaucratic hierarchies to technology driven networks (3:00)
To date, organizations and industries have been structured like pyramids where one leader funneled down to workers, and back up again. It’s a highly inefficient system, that has been used because transaction and communication costs had been so high. However, technology has changed all that.
Examples of technology driven networks replacing pyramid structured hierarchies:
a. Twitter vs newspaper (4:30) - All of us are reporters, and the crowd determines which content/news is most valuable.
b. SoundCloud vs music industry (6:15) - Anyone create and publish music. You don’t have to go through a record label and you get found by the crowd.
2. Unbundling (8:15)
The way products and services are packaged and taken to market is changing. Fred believes everything will eventually get unbundled.
It used to be very expensive to package and bring a product to market, so products were bundled. To buy one product or service you usually had to buy it with several others. However, technology has made it more efficient to package and deliver products. In addition, the offerings can be improved because producers are completely focused on that specific offering.
Examples of industries that are unbundling or are ripe for unbundling (9:15):
a. Newspaper - We used to buy one newspaper and get world, local, sports, etc. Now it’s all from different sources.
b. Banking - Entrepreneurs are picking off offerings of large institutions and offering them as network based business models. For example, Lending Club for peer-to-peer consumer lending.
c. Education - Large institutions have been bundling things like physical location, professor, library, research, etc.
3. We are all nodes on the network (14:15)
Smartphones have become nearly as powerful as desktops or laptops. In addition, there are many things we can do on our phone that we can’t do on our desktop/laptop. For example, smartphones have sensors, are location aware, are with us at all times. In emerging markets, they’ve leapfrogged the desktop and gone straight to mobile because they could never afford it.
The result: we are all connected to each other all the time. Examples:
a. Transportation (16:15) - Uber and Halo - Making limo and taxi travel more efficient by leveraging mobile and the network it creates.
b. Payments (17:00) - Venmo, Dwolla, Square - services that allow us to have a wallet on our phone and send money to anyone with the app (on the network)
c. Dating (17:30) - Tinder - location aware matching
Four Sectors to watch:
1. Money (18:30) - Bitcoin - not the currency, the protocol
Fred described Bitcoin as “the financial and transactional protocol for the internet that we have not had until now.” It’s a layer of internet infrastructure that’s global, distributed, and not owned or operated by anyone. Payment can now flow on the internet the same way content does, and it’s not controlled by paypal or credit card companies. Fred believes this presents huge opportunities.
2. Health and wellness (20:15) - not healthcare
Health and wellness it what keeps you out of the healthcare system. Fred believes the three trends will play a big role in this space. For example, we now have devices that can report our vital signs to ourselves and others. This could have a huge effect on the insurance industry.
3. Data leakage (22:45) - not big data
When the industrial revolution came on, we started polluting, but didn’t do anything about it for a century. In the information revolution, the pollution is data. The data is letting the government and big companies like Facebook and Google spy on us when we don’t them to (in many cases). Fred believes getting control of data leakage at individual and societal level may be valuable.
4. Trust and identity (24:00)
We’ve allowed Twitter and Facebook to be our identity. We’re giving them access to everything we do. Fred predicted a protocol (bitcoin like service) that will emerge to allow us to have control over our identify trust and data.
To watch his talk in full, which I highly recommend you do, check it out here.
5 Best Types of People to Have in Your Network
Having a strong professional network has many different benefits. For example, your network can help you get introduced to more people, you can learn from the people in your network, and having relationships with people in high places can present many opportunities. The below types of people will help you in a variety of ways.
Connectors are people who know tons of people, are always meeting new people, and make a practice of connecting these people to each other. By connecting with connectors, you can extend your reach tremendously. The world gets smaller. You’ll have second connections and introductions to way more people.
Connecting with connectors give you more eyes on the world. You’ll get introduced to more people directly, which is often more time effective than going to events.
One of the benefits of having a strong network is being able to learn and get advice. Getting personalized, in-person advice is one of the best ways to learn. Connect with people with deep experience and expertise to accelerate your learning.
If you’re starting a financial company, connect with people who know the financial industry. If you’re working in marketing, connect with people who know marketing.
Rising stars are young people who you see great potential in. These people tend to grow and rise quickly. Good people learn, improve, and meet other good people.
I try to build relationships and help rising stars as much as I can while I still can. Maybe five years down the road they’ll be investing and you’ll have started a company. Maybe they’ll be the CEO of a company that you want to partner with…or even work for.
Have a long-term view. Don’t just think about where people are now, think about where they will be. And where you might be.
Peers are people in similar but not competitive roles who you are friendly with. Being able to trade notes about your mutual experiences and support each other can be extremely valuable. In addition, there maybe be opportunity to help each other or work together in the future.
If you run an agency, connect with people running non-competitive agencies. If you do business development at a startup, connect with people who do business development at other startups.
You’re doing similar things, and possibly talking to similar people, so there should be plenty of opportunity to teach each other or make referrals.
People are often trying to connect with people several levels above them. That is valuable, however you will probably be less able to help these people and they will have less time and motivation to get to know you. Forming long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with your peers can sometimes be more valuable.
Outliers are people completely outside of your industry. It’s valuable to know outliers because I’ve found that good people know other good people. Good people are naturally attracted to each other. Your outliers may have gone to college or summer camp with some awesome people, and because they too are awesome, probably formed relationships with these people.
Don’t get stuck in your bubble. Knowing outliers gives you access to a completely different networks of people. Most of the outliers I’m close with are friends and family that I’ve known for years.
To learn more about networking, check out my book, How to Build an Awesome Professional Network.
3 Things that matter more than the startup idea
I’ve talked to a lot of people, and I’ve been in the same situation myself in the past, who have identified an opportunity, or “startup idea”, and are considering whether or not to pursue it. Others may be considering joining an early-stage startup or someone with just an idea (pre-traction, pre-product, etc).
It’s common, and valuable, to evaluate an idea from a strategic and fundamental perspective. However, In reality, a company’s success is dependent upon a lot more than the quality of the idea.
Some people think the idea doesn’t matter at all. For example, many VCs consider the strength of the team the most important factor for evaluating an investment opportunity. I don’t think that the “idea” or product doesn’t matter. I think there are three things to consider in addition to how great the opportunity is.
How passionate are you about the customers you’re serving, the problem you’re solving, the product you’re delivering, the market you’re operating in, etc?.
Some people can put their head down and execute no matter what, especially if there’s financial incentive, but I think for most people, having passion can lead to much better execution, not to mention a much higher quality of life overall.
You’re going to be spending a lot of time working on any startup, so it should probably be something you’re passionate about.
The people you’re working on your startup with will have a major impact on it’s likelihood for success and your satisfaction. Inevitably, as you enter the market and you begin getting feedback from customers, your idea will evolve. The people you’re working on it with won’t change.
A team with the skillsets, experience, and relationships to be able to execute effectively will of course help tremendously. You will also be spending a lot of time together, so having people that you share values, ethics, goals, etc. with and generally enjoy spending time with could be tremendously beneficial.
If things don’t work out with your team, it can be detrimental to the company. Having a great team that’s both talented and works well together can be tremendously beneficial.
Do you have the ability to execute on this opportunity? Examples of factors that might influence your ability to execute include, access to customers, skillset required, domain expertise, relationships with partners or teammates, etc.
For example, if it’s a b2b product, knowing sales would be tremendously beneficial. If it’s an ecommerce company, knowing about competitors, processes, regulations, etc. would be valuable. There are also “soft skills” like leadership, team management, etc.
Key takeaway: A company’s success is dependent upon a lot more than the quality of the idea. The question is not just how strong is this opportunity, it’s what opportunity can and should I pursue.
Your network gives you more eyes on the world
I’ve written a lot about how valuable having a strong professional network can be. One of the most obvious benefits is being able to get warm introductions to people you want to work with. One of the less obvious benefits is that your network can be a great research tool.
There are so many people and businesses is in the word, it’s nearly impossible to know about everything. Having a strong network provides extra sets of eyes on the world.
For a venture capitalist, there are so many startups in the world, it would take a lifetime to do as much research or go to as many events. In addition, by the time a company is on something like Techcrunch or something, it may be too late to invest for many investors.
Having a network of people that are checking out new technologies, meeting entrepreneurs, etc. gives you exponentially more reach.
There are probably many things you would benefit from knowing about that simply isn’t publicised. For example, I’ve had people tell me about big companies starting initiatives where it would make sense to get involved.
In a job search, you could learn about which companies are hiring for your skillset, and what exactly they’re looking for so you can position yourself accordingly.
I even get most of my recommendations for movies, products, tv shows, restaurants, etc. from people I know.
To be a great connector, always have your eyes open for people and information that the your network would find valuable. There have been several times where I’ve introduced two people who I thought would know each other but simply didn’t. Everyone’s busy and can’t always be on the look out for people they should meet or potential customers or partners.
Key Takeaway: Everyone you know has a set of eyes that can be keeping a look out for relevant people and information for you. The more people you know the less “fog of war” you have. More relationships means more eyes on the world.
6 Ways Stoicism Applies to Entrepreneurship
I just finished reading a really awesome book about a philosophy called Stoicism. I’ve heard that Stoicism is practiced by several successful entrepreneurs. I like and agree with a lot of what Stoics recommend for achieving happiness and living life. Below are six sets of Stoic beliefs and how they translate to entrepreneurship.
Appreciation & Fear. Stoics periodically contemplate (but not worry about) “worst-case scenarios.” It’s a practice they call negative visualization. It’s practiced for a few reasons. First, to lessen the impact if these scenarios do come true. Second, to reduce insatiability and appreciate what we currently have. Negative visualization is to prevent ourselves from taking for granted the things we worked so hard to get. Including our friends, family, house, company, etc.
Most of us spend our idle time thinking about the things we want but don’t have. We would be much better off, Stoics believe, to spend this time thinking of all the things we have and reflecting on how much we would miss them if they were not ours.
Entrepreneurship is extremely risky. There’s a chance for deals to fall through, the company to fail, etc. By practicing negative visualization, one may reduce the impact if/when it happens.
In addition, it’s intended to help us appreciate what we already have, whatever that may be. In starting a company, an entrepreneur is probably striving for something highly ambitious. Changing an industry, building a massive company, etc. I consider it a true gift to be able to work on entrepreneurial ventures. We should remember we’re lucky to even have the opportunity to do what we’re doing.
Control, Hope & Goals. Stoics believe in focusing on what’s in our control, and not what’s our of our control. They believe wanting or hoping for things that are not in our control will disrupt our tranquility.
“It is impossible that happiness, and yearning for what is not present, should ever be united.” - Epictetus
In goal setting, Stoics therefore set goals that are internal. They don’t worry about what’s external, or out of one’s control. For example, the goal when pitching an investor would be to do it as best possible, not for the investor to actually invest. It avoids frustration of losing it without reducing our chances of losing it, and it reduces our insatiability, or yearning for something that’s out of our control, which is believed to cause unhappiness.
Success & Duty. A Stoic does not pursue wealth for wealth’s sake, but might nevertheless attain it, because a Stoic will do what he can to make himself useful to fellow humans. If effective in helping, he will likely be rewarded.
As an entrepreneur, I consider customers my boss. I strive to figure out what’s of most valuable to them, deliver it, and capture it.
Willpower. In addition to negative visualization, Stoics sometimes live as if the negative things had actually happened. For example, instead of merely thinking about what it would be like to lose wealth, they would periodically practice poverty. The goal is to content ourselves with the less.
Self-denial is not practiced for punishment, but to enjoy what we have, and to harden ourselves against misfortunes that might happen in the future. Someone who tries to avoid discomfort is less likely to be comfortable than someone who periodically embraces discomfort. The latter individual is likely to have a much wider “comfort zone” than the former and will therefore feel comfortable under circumstances that would cause the former individual considerable distress.
In getting a company off the ground, living a luxurious life may not be an option for some entrepreneurs. Starting a company takes a lot of hard work and usually some money. By practicing self-denial an entrepreneur may be better prepared for the hardships.
By forging pleasure, one is believed to experience pleasure of a different kind: pleasure for exercising willpower. Willpower is like a muscle: the more we exercise it, the stronger it gets.
Startups require lots of hard work and long hours. I try to take pride and pleasure in exercising willpower and pushing myself to work harder.
Stress. Stoics believe we are the source of any feeling we experience.
“What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgements about these things” - Epictetus
Stoics use reasoning to overcome negative emotions. Putting negative moments into a cosmic context trivializes and alleviates it. By contemplating the impermanence of the world around us, we realize that some things are not as important are not as important as we may think.
Entrepreneurship is of course very risky and challenging. Entrepreneurs inevitably face many roadblocks and rejections on the route to success. The challenges and uncertainty can be quite stressful. By altering our psychological attitude toward failure, we can alter the degree to which we fear it.
Freedom & Personal Values. People are unhappy, the Stoics argue, in large part because they are confused about what is valuable. Because of their confusion, they spend their days pursuing thing that, rather than making them happy, make them anxious and miserable.
Stoics value their freedom, and they are therefore reluctant to do anything that will give others power over them. If we seek social status we give other people power over us. What people think of us is also something that’s out of our control. Stoics believe that many people are haunted by a fear that in some cases significantly constrains their freedom, namely, the fear of failure.
If that’s not a call for entrepreneurship I don’t know what is! :)
6 Content Networks that Drive Traffic
As a marketer, one of the main objectives is to get more exposure and traffic. There a few content networks that can help you get exposure to audiences you may not have reached otherwise. This exposure can lead to more traffic, and ultimately more conversions.
Content networks are like search engines, or marketplaces, for people to find content. Different people prefer to consume content in different formats. Creating content for the networks described below allows you to engage with these different audiences where and how they like to be engaged. In the second half of the post I offer suggestions for using these networks to get exposure and drive traffic to your product or service.
1. YouTube - video
YouTube is actually the second largest search engine in the world. People go to YouTube to search for and consume video content. People love video content. In addition, because YouTube is owned by Google, YouTube videos tend to surface higher than in search than equivalent web content. For these reasons, YouTube is a channel that should not be ignored.
2. Udemy - educational video
While still not yet to the scale of YouTube, Udemy is a fast growing content network, specifically for educational video. After sharing a free discount code on a few social channels, my customer development course got about 400 signups in 24 hours! That’s way more signups than I get views on YouTube. Considering those are opted-in signups from registered users, I think it’s pretty amazing. I don’t get the email addresses of people that sign up for my courses, but I can direct message them or post announcements that also get sent as emails. In addition, I link to my book and blog within the course content and on my profile, driving traffic to other properties that I can monetize.
3. Quora - informational text
Quora is a crowd-sourced question and answer community. I’ve found that for a lot of blog posts that I write, there’s a Quora question that the post would be an appropriate answer to. Quora can also be a great way to get topics for blog posts. If someone has asked it and there are a lot of followers, it’s validation that there’s demand for content on that topic. You could answer the question on Quora, and then repurpose it as a blog post.
Quora recently launched a feature called stats to help producers analyze results. As you can see below, I’ve been getting some pretty solid exposure through Quora.
Quora also has a currency system thats granted to award certain behaviors (ie when your answers get “upvoted”). I can use that currency to promote my content. Promoting on Quora is similar to promoting on something like Twitter, except it’s free (and perhaps more targeted). I post links to my other properties, within the text of my answers, on my profile, and on my “short-bio” that gets displayed with every answer I post.
4. Amazon - text
Self-publishing a book on Amazon is like putting a thimble in-front of a firehouse of traffic. Massive amounts of people are registered on Amazon and are actively browsing for books. They already have their credit card information stored, and many products can be ordered in one click. I also read somewhere that content on Amazon tends to surface pretty high on search as well. I post links to my blog within the text of my book and in my author profile. You could also post links within the description of your book so people get exposure to you without even ordering the book. Self-publishing an ebook to Amazon is surprisingly fast and easy, and it can pay off significantly.
5. Podcasts - audio and video
I haven’t yet started a Podcast but I’d love to at some point. Podcasts are typically consumed via mobile. iTunes and the Podcasts mobile app have great search functionality. People that like Podcasts, such as myself, can search for keywords and find you that way.
6. Slideshare - presentations
I never would have guessed that there would be so many people that enjoy consuming content in PowerPoint slide format. But there are! Within a couple weeks on Slideshare I reached 1000 views. Again, more than YouTube. I’ve created presentations solely for the purpose of posting to Slideshare. I also post the slides I actually use when I speak at events, such as my Skillshare class. Slideshare you allows you to post active links within the slides, which makes it easier for a viewer to click through.
How to Get Traffic (or, how I became I content creating machine)
Repurpose your existing content to the appropriate format of each of these networks. For example, after writing blog posts on networking, I created a Udemy course on the topic. After creating the Udemy course, I repurposed the blog posts and Udemy content into an Amazon book. Then I turned the book content into more blog posts. Then I found Quora questions that the content from the blog posts or book would make for good answers to. After self-publishing the book, I got asked to speak at about five different events. I published the slides I used for each of the events to Slideshare. If a was really a rockstar, I would record the talks and post them on YouTube! I also created Slideshares based on the blog posts and used those slides as the background for YouTube videos.
Thinking through and creating the first piece of content is the hardest part. Repurposing is much easier. For example, it’s fairly easy to summarize a blog post as a Slideshare, or talk through it for a YouTube video. Or, after you’ve answered a question on Quora, you could repurpose it as a blog post.
Include a link to whatever you want to drive traffic to in the description, the content itself, and/or your profile. These networks can be an amazing way to get traffic to the top of your conversion funnel.
Create and distribute content on these networks to extend your reach and drive traffic to your properties. Include a link to the property you want to drive traffic to somewhere within the content.
Different people like to consume content in different ways. Each content network will have slightly different audience, giving you a wider reach. Creating content in these respective formats allows you to engage people where and how they like to be engaged.
A simple way to take advantage of these content networks is to simply repurpose blog posts or other content for each network.
When failure is a success
You know what sucks? Failing. Being wrong. Telling people you failed.
You know what sucks more? Wasting a bunch of time and money on something that can’t be a business.
One of the biggest pieces of customer development advice I give is to try prove yourself wrong. Try to invalidate your hypotheses and assumptions.
When you hear something that validates your hypotheses, second guess your interviewee. Dig deeper. Make them prove it. Make it clear that it’s ok for people to tell you your idea sucks.
When you try to prove yourself wrong, you are less-likely to get biased responses. You are less likely to get “false-validation” that could send you down a path of wasted time and money.
As an entrepreneur or intrapraneur, you probably have a big vision for your new startup. You want to bring it to life and accomplish your goals. Maybe you’ve told your teammates, friends, and/or family about it. You don’t want to have to go back and tell them you ended up being wrong.
However, failing fast is a success because it gives you more time and money to spend on better opportunities. It’s better to fail fast than slow, because it gives you more time and money to spend on opportunities that can help you accomplish your goals and that you can brag to your friends, family, and teammates about.
There are plenty of opportunities out there for all of us. The far scarcer resources are time and money. Don’t waste those.
To motivate yourself to “fail,” remind yourself of how much it would suck to spend a bunch of time and money on something no one wants.
Invalidating an idea through customer development should not be considered a failure, it should be considered a success.
The First Step to Take After Coming up with a Startup Idea
I’ve been looking for and starting businesses since I was a kid. In middle school I even had a business wholesaling vending machine goods hah. As I grew older I began thinking of more complex and technology driven ideas. After coming up with such ideas, the first thing I would usually do is ask a few friends and family who I consider to be smart and whose opinion I appreciate.
After reading books like The Startup Owner’s Manual, and learning about Lean Methodology and customer development, I learned that’s not exactly the best thing to do after coming up with an idea. I learned that the only opinion that matters is the customer’s.
While my friends and family may be pretty smart and some even entrepreneurially savvy, they don’t actually affirmatively know if people would want what I was thinking of marketing/selling.
I learned that one of the most important factors to consider was if it’s something that people want..
Yes there are many other strategic and personal considerations, however if it’s not something people want, then no strategy or marketing angle is likely to make it work. Conversely if there is something that truly of value to customers, many of the challenges associated with building a company, including customer acquisition, partnerships, etc., may be alleviated.
So, the first step to take after coming with a startup idea is to talk to your customers. Talk to, and more importantly, listen to, the customers that your product or service would be serving to see if they like your idea. It’s a process called customer development.
Customer development is practiced to validate that you’re solving a problem for someone and that they see your idea as a viable solution.
I also learned a more effective process for coming up with ideas. A process driven by meeting customer needs by using customer development to gain insights that inform product decisions.
The key takeaway of this post is that answers to our questions about ideas come from getting feedback from customers through structured interviews and experiments. I go into specific tactics you can use to test ideas and conduct customer interviews in my book and video course. If you would like guidance on first steps to take on your idea, let me know in the comments!
Did Snapchat just make a massive blunder?
It was recently reported that Snapchat turned down a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook. Snapchat is 2.5 years old and hasn’t earned a single dollar in revenue.
For the non-financiers reading, the valuation of any asset is as much as someone is willing to pay for it, and people generally determine how much they’re willing to pay for a given investment based on their expectation for future cash flow. In the case of a company, cash flows come from either dividends paid to shareholders (ie profit) or a liquidity event (acquisition or IPO).
Who else would be willing to pay more than Facebook in the future? I can see the logic behind Facebook’s offer. They need to prevent competition and they have a ton of cash. But how many other companies in the world would have the motivation and the budget to provide Snapchat shareholders with a liquidity event worth more than that?
(Side notes: What does this say about Facebook’s business? Do they need to spend $3 billion for every mobile messaging company just to maintain and grow their business? And was it crazier for Facebook to make such an offer or for Snapchat to turn it down?)
Not only does Snapchat need to get a higher offer for their rejection to make sense, it needs to outpace their dilution. Since the company doesn’t make money, they will need to keep raising money. More outside financing means less ownership for the team and current investors. So while future valuations might be higher, each individual will have a smaller slice of the pie. Future offers will have to outpace dilution for it to be more profitable for the team and investors.
Yes, the company could also start making money, but as Shane Snow pointed out today, it looks like that will be tough. I agree and I really like his article so I’m not going to recite it. Read his analysis. It will be especially hard to earn enough profit to make them worth more than $3 billion as a standalone company.
I actually think this might go down as one of the biggest mistakes in the history of business. I think we might look back at this in ten years and say “wow, I can’t believe how crazy things were!” Then again, maybe Apple will offer $5 billion next week hah.
Customer Development: 14 Best Ways to Find Customers to Interview
You might have the best new product idea in the world, but until you find customers, it’s not actually a business. It’s important to find customers and conduct customer development interviews so that you can be sure you’re building something that people actually want and avoid spending time and money on something that people don’t want. Listening to your customers can also help you improve your offering from something that people “kinda like” to something they “love.”
Access to customers and ability to obtain interviews can be your first test of the viability of a business. If you can’t find customers before you have a product, what will you do when you have a product? Before you go out and start interviewing people, figure out who exactly you need to be interviewing. If you’re testing an idea, think about who you suspect is most strongly affected by the problem you’re solving or who would most passionately love your proposed product.
To find customers within your target segment, go where they hang out both online and offline. Think strategically about what activities your customers are likely to be partaking in, what groups and communities they’re likely to be a part of, and what social networks they’re likely to be active on.
Most of the channels below are not scalable or sustainable customer acquisition channels. However, scalability does not have to be your main concern at an early stage. Testing assumptions quickly, even if it costs a small amount of money, can save a lot of time and even more money in the future.
1. LinkedIn groups
If you suspect your ideal customers will have certain roles, be in certain industries, etc., try using LinkedIn groups to find potential customers. There are many groups for people who have specific roles, such as marketing, doctors, etc., and for many business related topics. Once you find someone you would like to interview, you can reach out through LinkedIn, ask a shared connection for an introduction, or find their contact information and reach out directly. If your customers are sales teams, you might check out this sales group which has nearly 150,000 members.
2. People you know
If you know people that fit into your customer segment, ask if they’re available for an interview. Be sure you’re talking to people who wouldn’t buy something from you just because they like you. Try to focus on gaining insight rather than pitching your idea, because your friends will be even more likely to agree with you. Here’s an example of a script I’ve used to ask people I know for interviews:
“Hi [their name],
Hope all is well! I’m looking for feedback on a potential product to help with [problem or process]. Given your experience, it would be great to get your feedback.
I don’t have a product to sell (yet)…I’m just trying to determine if it’s a problem worth solving in the first place.
Could I buy you a coffee next week to ask you a few questions and get your feedback?
3. Ask for referrals
Ask people you know if they know anyone that fits your customer profile. If they do, ask for introductions. Ask the people you get introduced to for more referrals. If someone is enthusiastic enough about your proposed product that they want to introduce you to their friends, that’s a good sign. Here’s a script you can use at the end of an interview to ask for referrals:
“Do you know anyone else who might have this problem that you would feel comfortable introducing me to so I could conduct a similar interview?”
You could also think of specific people you think could be customers, find them on Facebook or LinkedIn, and if you have any shared connections, ask the shared connection if they could introduce you.
4. Cold call or email
Get specific about who would love your product to the point of naming specific people. If your customers are businesses, find the contact information of a decision maker and reach out to them cold. The response rate to cold outreach is likely to be well below 100%, but if you phrase it correctly, you should get some responses. Here’s an example of an email template I’ve used:
“Hi [their name],
I’m Mike [link to page with my bio]. I’m looking for feedback on a potential product to help with [problem or process]. I came across your LinkedIn profile and it looks like you have a lot of experience with [problem or process], so I was hoping to get your feedback.
I don’t have a product to sell (yet)…I’m just trying to determine if it’s a problem worth solving in the first place.
Could I ask you a few questions and get your feedback over a fifteen minute phone call?
They key components of the email are that it 1) explains I don’t have a product to sell 2) asks for feedback, to position them more like a potential partner than a potential customer, 3) lets them know it won’t take up much of their time, and 4) very briefly describes the problem or area I’m trying to help with to pique their interest enough to respond.
Meetup.com is a site where people join groups around their interest and organize offline events. It’s become quite popular so there’s a good chance there’s a group for the customers you’re looking for. If you’re targeting mothers, look for a meetup group for mothers.
Once you find a relevant group, you could attend their next event, where you’ll find a group of potential customers you can interview in person. You could also reach out to the organizers or specific people within the group through Meetup’s messaging system.
6. Conferences and events
Conferences can be a great way to find customers to interview if you’re working on an enterprise product. If your customers are publishing companies, go to a publishing conference. If your customers are young party-goers, go to a bar crawl. Eventbrite is a great place to find conferences and events.
Craigslist has many different categories of listings and gets a lot of traffic. Try reaching out to posters on categories related to your product. You can create your own listing to generate inbound. For example, if your customers are real estate brokers, search for apartment listing with brokers.
Search for relevant hashtags and phrases on Twitter. For example, if your customers are babysitters, search for people talking about babysitting. Once you find them, you could Tweet asking for feedback or direct message them after following them.
Facebook has several functions that can help you find potential customers. Using Facebook search, you can find people based on a wide range of different criteria, including interests, as shown below.
Facebook has groups for many different topics. If your customers are authors or content creators, you might check out a Kindle self-publishing group. You could then join the group create a post asking for interviews.
Running a small Facebook ad campaign to drive traffic to a landing page, can be a great way to find target demographics as well. Include a small amount of copy on the landing page briefly describing your value proposition or the problem you’re solving and include an email submission form.
10. Create a blog
Creating content that’s valuable to your customers can lead to inbound traffic. While it may take a long time to build substantial traffic, if it’s a customer segment you’re passionate about serving, creating content shouldn’t be a huge chore. Be sure to enable commenting to encourage discussion and interaction, and to have an email address submission form. Blogging can also become a great customer acquisition channel and is for many companies.
11. Offline paper handouts in public places
Go where your customers spend time offline and attract their attention with flyers and business cards. For example, if your product is fitness related, try posting on a board at a gym. Include your email address or a link to your landing page.
Kickstarter is a great way to get validation for your product. It enables you to pre-sell your product to their audience of existing users. I recommend doing some research to determine if Kickstarter would be right for your product.
13. Hit the streets
If your customers are families, go to a family-centric neighborhood such as a suburb. Stop relevant people on the street and politely ask them if you could ask a few questions related to the problem you’re solving. Most people will be happy to help. If you’re customers are restaurants, think of one in your neighborhood that you can walk in to and ask for an interview.
Quora can be a great resource for gaining customer insights. There’s nothing as valuable as in-person, one-on-one, customer development interviews, however Quora can be a great supplement. Look for questions and review pages relevant to your customers or the problem you’re solving. If your customers are human resources people or people you are hiring, you might want to read a thread similar to the one pictured below.
You could reach out to the people that are answering, voting on, or following the questions to ask for feedback, especially if they describe having the pain you’re solving for. You can use a script similar to the one described in the cold outreach section.
To learn more, check out “Customer Development for Entrepreneurs”: the book, and the video course.
The best “networking” doesn’t happen at events
Conferences and “events” can be a big time commitment, and sometimes the crowds are sub-par. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a lot of value in going to big events. Especially if you’re building up a new network in a new industry.
Many people complain that they only meet a couple good people at events. My counter-argument is that that’s actually a great return. If you meet even one person at an event that turns into a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship, that drastically exceeds the cost of attending one or more events
However, now that I’ve built up a solid base network, I do most of my “networking” by asking for introductions. I’m now very intentional about who specifically I want to be meeting. I find them on LinkedIn and if we have any shared connections, I ask for an introduction. Otherwise I try to interact with them online, usually via Twitter or commenting on their blog, before reaching out directly. I also get a lot of recommendations about who I should meet (and introductions) from people I know.
The next biggest way I meet new people is from cold outreach. I don’t get anywhere near a 100% response rate, but I’ve been really surprised by how many new connections I’ve been able to make through cold emails. I think having a solid online presence (Twitter, blog that let’s people get to know me, etc) helps me get a higher response rate.
I really like private events and happy hours. I can be confident the crowd will be good. I try to organize them myself sometimes too. It allows me to introduce people to each other informally and to hang out with people I already know in a relaxed setting. I usually tell people they can bring people too, which allows me to meet some new people as well.
Niche events and groups around stuff you’re passionate can also be great. Even if it’s not a professional interest, it can still be a great way to “network.” I’ve found that good people know other good people, so I try to spend time with people I like rather, than just people in certain industries or with certain job titles. In addition, by engaging with people around a shared interest, you can get to know each other much better.
Conclusion: Conferences and networking events can be really valuable. You never know who you’ll meet, and meeting just one great person makes it all worthwhile. If you’re building a network in a new industry, they are a great way to get started building a new network. After building up enough contacts and a good reputation, asking for introductions to specific people is probably the best way to go. Cold outreach and private events can also be productive.
To learn more about building a professional network, check out my book.