If You Build It They Will NOT Come

So you’ve got a great idea, and you’ve vetted it using the 4 steps I previously wrote about.  Now what?

Build an Audience, Not a Product

Many entrepreneurs (myself included) will jump immediately to building a prototype or alpha version of a product.  They’re starting at the end of the conversion funnel – focusing on the user experience and ignoring the critical initial steps in a user acquisition funnel: marketing.  What’s going to prompt people to use the product? How will they hear about it? How will you convince them to try it? (not sure? see How Jobs To Be Done Can Help You Get More Users To Switch To Your Product Or Service).


Please don’t build something before you know how people will discover it.  Please.

This isn’t just my advice: read about Product Hunt founder Ryan Hoover’s take on this.

Instead, I’d recommend testing the marketing campaigns to validate user acquisition costs that could to make sure your business model is realistic.  Many startups fail because they run out of cash, and marketing expenses, especially when you first launch, can really drain your bank account.

Testing Marketing Messages

For a few hundred dollars, you can start running ads in a few days to test your user acquisition costs.  Try running ads on LinkedIn (if you’re targeting a professional or enterprise customer), Facebook, or Instagram (not sure how to run an ad? Mailchimp, one of my favorite digital marketing platforms, can help).  I’m not a fan of Twitter because setting up and analyzing results from ads is painful, but they do offer one unique feature: the ability to target people based on what apps they have installed on their phone.

Build a Landing Page to Collect Emails

So where do you send all the people who click on an ad? Build a simple landing page that explains your product using words and pictures.  Ask people to give you their email address to get updates, and then send periodic (monthly or bi-monthly would be fine) updates on how things are going.  Or write content they’d be interested in and include that in a periodic newsletter.  Track opens and clicks.  These are your early adopters and they’re likely to volunteer to beta test your product if you do build it.

If they’re not willing to give you their email address, why should you think they’d sign up for your product?

Here’s an example landing page I’m building for an idea I’m working on:

alpha landing page design

I built it in an hour on Lander and before I even launched it, I ran some usability tests to see how people would react to it.  That way, I can tweak the page before running ads so that I can convince more people to provide their email and therefore lower my user acquisition costs.

Want to talk about building an audience for your idea?

Email me: startupproductcoach@gmail.com

How to Recruit User Research Participants from Craigslist

Consistent communications with users is critical for successful products

Talking to your users should be a consistent part of your product development process, no matter what the stage.  Don’t ever assume you know how people will respond to what you’re doing – humans are complex creatures.  When vetting an idea, it’s a great way to confirm that your solution will be different, and that the problem you’re trying to solve really exists in the world.  When launching, it’s a great way to gauge reactions to user acquisition campaigns/ads as well as your first-time user experience.  When growing, it’s a critical way to ensure your tactics will scale to large audiences.

So how do you recruit people to interview for their insights and feedback?  There are a lot of options, such as UserTesting.com and respondent.io.

But in this post, I’m going to describe a low-cost and perhaps the fastest way to recruit: Craigslist.

Posting a Gig

  1. Pick a city to post in.  If you’re looking to recruit for an in-person interview, post locally or in the cities where you’re willing to go to.
  2. Create a post in the “gigs” section.  I typically choose the “computer gigs” category but you can experiment with others.
  3. Describe who you’re looking to talk to and what you’re asking them to do.
  4. Provide an incentive in both the description and the “pay” input field on the Craigslist form.

Here’s an example from a recent post I made:

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 9.37.25 AM

Some Things to Keep In Mind

  1. Keep in mind some biases that Craigslist will introduce to your participant pool: location (because you had to pick a city or multiple cities to post this to) and where you posted this.  For example, I posted the above in the “computer
  2. I find that more people respond when I post the gig to “computer gigs” (vs other categories like creative or writing).
  3. I find that most people respond to these gigs at night, so expect at least one day turnaround for starting the recruiting process.
  4. Craigslist doesn’t allow  you post links to screener surveys in the post (I used to use a Google Form to filter out people who didn’t meet the criteria of who I wanted to talk to) so make sure you’re clear in your posting what the requirements are.  You might get some fakers still email you, so you might want to think of ways to filter them out before scheduling an interview.
  5. If you feel like you’re not getting enough responses, consider increasing your incentive.  A high level of compensation is $1 per minute of time you’re asking them for, but I’d suggest starting a little lower at first as very few people make $60/hour.
  6. Don’t forget to factor in no-shows.  For example, I posted a gig like the one below in 5-6 cities and in the course of a week, I had 20 interviews scheduled. Only 6 people (30%) actually showed up, even after accepting the meeting invite.  I’d recommend following up the day before or the morning of to confirm they’re coming and remind them of the incentive.

Some Example Results

I posted this ad in both Austin and Craigslist as I’m trying some new meeting scheduling tools.  I had 7 interviews on my calendar within 2 hours!

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 5.25.41 PM

Want help recruiting user research participants, or any other parts of the user research process?

Email me: startupproductcoach@gmail.com

4 Steps for Vetting A Product or Business Idea


Is this you? If so, keep calm and don’t build anything yet.

So you have an idea for the next killer app or product?  Before you start a company, build a prototype, or do any marketing, vet the idea first.  Specifically:

Step 1: Identify What Problem You’re Solving

“People don’t want a 1/4″ drill, they want a 1/4″ hole.”

I would go one step further – why do they want a 1/4″ hole?  To hang up a picture? Why? To decorate their house? Why? To impress guests with their style? Alright, now we’re getting somewhere.

It’s important to understand not only what someone is trying to do in the context of his life, but also why it’s important to him, and how he’ll measure progress/success.

Step 2: Talk to Prospective Customers

See if you can find 10-12 people that might buy your product.  (Not sure how to find them? Check out my post on recruiting people from Craigslist).  Offer them an incentive such as a $25 Amazon gift card to talk to you for 30 minutes.  Find out what they’re currently doing to solve the problem at hand.

  • If they’re not doing anything, find out why.  Too much work? Too expensive? No time?  Explain your concept to them.  Would they use it? Why or why not?
  • If they’re using something else already, find out how they like it.
    • If they’re not happy with their current solution, find out why and ask what, if anything, they’ll do next to find a better solution. (Google it? Ask a friend? Talk to a family member?)
    • If they are happy, find out why.  What would cause them to change their mind?

Take notes during or immediately after each discussion and later summarize the themes.

Step 3: Research Alternate Solutions

If you heard of some alternate solutions to the problem from your prospective users, research them more.  Start with a simple Google search.  Things to consider:

  • Do they have a significant head start? (ex. they’ve been around for 2 years and have 50,000 Facebook followers)
  • How would your solution be different/better?

Identify the top 3 competitors you’d face and write down how you’d explain to a prospective user how your solution is better than each.

Step 4: Draft the Business Model

How will your business make money?  Some questions to ask yourself:

  • How will I find customers?  How much will it cost to get the first customer?
  • How much can I charge each customer?
  • What other costs will I incur? (staff and rent are likely the biggest – think about how many people you’ll need)

Create a spreadsheet and play with the numbers.  What are the 3-4 key numbers that really change revenue or costs?  Highlight those cells – they represent the key assumptions you’re going to need to validate if you move forward.

If it looks like you can generate more revenue than costs, nice job!  Sounds like you might be onto something profitable.  If not, stop.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.  Move on to another idea.

Want help vetting your idea? Drop me a line.