How to find initial customers to validate your business assumptions?

As an early stage Founders, it can be challenging to find your initial customers and early adopters.

You know that you have to get out of the building and speak with your potential customers. Everyone around you -from coaches, to mentors, to peers …- are reminding you of this.

You read anything that you could find on customer interviews. Blogs, articles and books such as ‘The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers and Learn If Your Business is a Good Idea when Everyone is Lying to You’, ‘Testing with Humans: How to Use Experiments to Make’… You learned how to make sure that the insights -you are collecting- are objective and tangible to validate or invalidate your hypotheses.

Despite this, you are getting too few of customers’ feedback to be actionable… Does it sound familiar? Then rest assured that you are not alone.

Before you jump head first and try to target more people, you need to define the right audience. Your hypothesis validation process depends on your ability to gather accurate information. Thus, finding the right people who know enough about the business or the topic of your idea is necessary. Make sure that you accurately define your target audience or persona before expanding your reach for testing.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of tactics and services that Founders can use to collect feedback and test their business model assumptions.

1. Start with your network

To find the first prospects to speak with, you should start with your own network of family, friends, colleagues, school…

Expand from your own network by working on your peer network and reaching beyond thanks to social media.

The downside of interviewing people in your network is that they are friendly to your cause. This means that you are introducing some potential bias to your learning.

2. Communities

Through your interest or work, you are part of multiple communities either physical or digital. Physical communities could be your coworking space, local meetups… Few examples of online community: Y Combinator Startup School, Reddit, Quora… To find more of them, thehiveindex.com is a great resource.

Joining and actively participating in one or several communities can give you a head start in growing an active customer base.

You can also benefit from launching your own community early own by hosting events, workshops or creating a newsletter. I recommend a great article from Ritika Mehta on the importance of communities in building startups:

3. Tools & Solutions

If you get limit results from the two first options, the following tools can be useful:

  • thisSprint recruits qualified user testers from their network so that you can get feedback quickly.
  • Userinterviews connects researchers and participants.
  • usertesting: Experience what your customers experience. Within a few hours, get the human insight you need to deliver exceptional products, services, or brands.
  • UsabilityHub is a remote user research platform that takes the guesswork out of design decisions by validating them with real users.
  • Paid helps SaaS companies get their first 100 users and compensates early adopters for their time (solution is currently in beta).
  • Kantar Marketplace accelerates consumer understanding with a market research platform designed for marketing agility.
  • Recruit’em: If you have a well defined persona for your audience, this tool could help you to find similar profiles.

To find your first users, you will do things that don’t scale. That could mean going to your peers to ask them to use your product, identifying people in forum sites and emailing them one by one. This is the most sure way to make your ideas take-off. That means you need much less people than you think to take off and you need fans not users.

Get started and good luck!

I would love inputs and suggestions to make the above list more exhaustive. Reach out on LinkedIn to share the tactics and tools that you have used or things that do not work and must be avoided from your experience.

Does it sound impossible to you to recruit users for your business? Then you might not yet have Founder-Fit.

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Rémi SAINT-JEAN

Impact Business Designer | Breakthrough innovation is born from unusual combinations | Ideas shared here are rooted in ‘Small Data’ and Customer Experience.