- Create an account at www.WordPress.com.
- Optional: choose a domain name for your experiment. This is not as important as naming your first child, so do not spend too much time on this task. Just pick something that is reasonably related to the pain you are trying to address, that is not too complex to spell or say, and that you would feel comfortable saying as part of your introduction (e.g., “Hi, I’m Matt from LeanFounder”).
- Do not spend more than 30 minutes thinking of names. Google, Zynga, and ICanHasCheezburger demonstrate that you can succeed with any name. If and when you start making progress on a particular idea, then you can revisit the domain name and buy one that does a better job at not sucking. Hunting for domain names is not progress.
- If you use GoDaddy.com, you can get a domain name for $12 a year and forward it to your MyExperiment.WordPress domain (you can also have your domain name resolve to WordPress, so that visitors see MyExperiment.com for an additional $17/year to WordPress).
- Hook up Google Analytics so that you can start learning about your customers and your market.
- Now that your WordPress blog is complete, you can call it a week and come back for next week’s mission where we get your first post ready.
There are two concepts to cover in this mission: 1) the importance of content; and 2) the importance of not fighting the framework.
The Importance of Content
If you cannot get people to visit your site that describes the pain you are trying to solve, there is a good chance that you will not be able to sell people software that addresses this pain either. WordPress is an effective way of creating content, so if the content is not attracting attention it is probably not WordPress’s fault. Furthermore, because it is easy, you can be up and running quickly. You can also experiment with how to get people to your blog (starting with Google Ad Words, but eventually including Facebook Ads, advertising on other Blogs, guest blogging, etc.), which can give you a good understanding of how to get customers to your service as well.
Don’t Fight the Framework
LeanFounder expects that you use WordPress on WordPress.com. There are countless alternatives that you could use. There are more powerful blogging solutions, more affordable hosting solutions, more powerful and more affordable hosting solutions, etc. But you do not need anything more powerful and you do not need anything more affordable. So, if there is no requirement to choose something other what the LeanFounder framework suggests, you should just follow the framework so that you can benefit from the framework. Not only does this mindset allow you to stop worrying about whether you could get a better deal at GoDaddy or Slicehost or App Engine, it also ensures that you will be able to directly apply the framework as we build on the foundation.
- Confirm that your press release still makes sense.
- Stack rank 20 prospective customers from most ideal to least ideal. Factors for determining ideal:
- Likelihood of becoming a paying customer;
- Willingness to provide meaningful feedback; and
- Ability to generate additional customers.
- Email the top 10 prospective customers. Include your press release. Ask for a 15 minute call to discuss whether your press release makes sense.
- Follow up with each of your top 10 by phone, even those who did not respond to your email. Ask them whether they think people will buy the product or service and, if so, how much they would spend. Ask if they found anything confusing or irrelevant. Finally, ask them if there is one thing that you should really highlight. Take active notes during this call, and be ready to report back to them when you implement their feedback.
- If you do not get a positive response from your clients, you should consider going back to Startup Week 5. Getting people interested in talking about their own pain should be easy, and if it is not you either do not understand your customer or you have not written an effective press release (or both). If you find yourself having to convince the prospective customer that they should care about your press release, when your press release is the description of a solution to one of their worst pains, you have something wrong.
- Once you have done your initial interviews, formalize your advisory group by sending around an email of mutual introduction. Create an online forum, such as a Facebook group, by which the advisory group can learn more about each other and through which you can better communicate with them.
Here is an amazing insight: salesman do not sell software, they sell a belief that things can be better. If you cannot get your prospective customers fired up about your press release, you do not need to build better software (you do not need to build any software), you need to build a better understanding of your customer. If your customer is a business, you need to understand how their business makes money and ensure that your press release is directed to a significant pain point for your customer. If you are targeting consumers, well, nobody really knows what they like so just launch and pray it takes off like Facebook, Angry Birds, Mafia Wars, or icanhascheezburger.
This is the mission where you kick into anthropologist mode: asking questions and observing how your customers respond to your offer. Write down the feedback that they give you, whether implicit (e.g., not responding to your emails) or explicit (e.g., feature requests, confusion about the product, restraining order). You will use this information to prioritize your development efforts and to build a virtuous feedback cycle (e.g., build, report, feedback).
Even though you are an anthropologist, It is important that you treat these people like customers instead of science experiments. You are in the business of helping your customers make progress–helping them address a significant pain. If it feels like you are asking them to help you, you are doing it wrong. If it feels like they want you to stop talking and deliver the product already, you might be on to something.
- Write down the hypothesis that you want to validate with your survey. For example, here is LeanFounder’s hypothesis: if a founder is going to start a software-startup in 2011, the founder believes that there is a need to find a co-founder and this belief is consuming time and preventing progress.
- Go to SurveyMonkey and create a survey. You can check out LeanFounder’s survey for some ideas.
- The first question should segment out the people who are clearly not your customers–over 99% of the world will not care about what you are doing, and your goal is to focus on those who might. Feedback from people who are not your target customer is not relevant.
- With the free version of SurveyMonkey, you cannot do question logic, but this is OK. This survey is not designed to be the best survey ever. It is designed to help you think through the questions that you need to ask people to validate that your solution, if built perfectly, will matter to a set of customers. If the person answers negatively to the first question, you should disregard the rest of their response.
- You should limit yourself to the number of questions that you can imagine yourself asking in a conversation (because that is how you will get most of your survey responses). More than 7 questions, and your likelihood of people responding falls to 0 (based on unscientific survey results). Use as little text as possible and keep questions simple.
- Save the survey and come back an hour later and try to cut it down to half the questions and cut each question down to half the size. Remember, nobody cares about you or your ideas. Your goal is not to sell, it is to understand how you can help your customer reduce pain.
- Post the survey anywhere that you think it might get responses, and get ready for some pain of your own: nobody answers surveys on websites, email campaigns, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else that you hope to post it. The real goal of the survey is not to post it somewhere and harvest results, but to print it out and survey people in person. If you have a pool of great potential clients, start there. If you do not, start with anybody that you know, that you meet, that gets stuck next to you in the elevator, whatever.
- When you are conducting your conversational surveys, just read the questions and mark down the answers. This may seem strange, but it prevents you from selling when you should be learning. If you find that you cannot read your questions without humiliation, or the questions do not accurately capture what you understand as the customer pain, then change the survey.
- When you have 100 survey results, you will at least have proven that you know how to get out of the building and start talking with potential customers.
There is nothing more dangerous than an awesome solution to an irrelevant problem.
For most founders, there is an extreme bias for action. In the absence of a clear path forward, we start moving. Although this bias is what allows startups to start, it can prevent the founders from thinking through what happens once the initial prototype is built. The purpose of validating customer pain is three-fold: confirm that there is a pain, confirm your ability to crisply articulate the pain, and improve your understanding of the customer’s hierarchy of pain.
The hierarchy of pain is important. It is an entirely unscientific mapping of customer pains from least to most. For most customers, the top two pains are: 1) need more time; and 2) need more money. Anything that you offer the customer is probably going to cost both time and money. So, addressing some pain that exists but is way down the list will result in a net loss for your customer and an impossible sales cycle for you, even if you offer a perfect solution (and your solution will be far from perfect). Your goal should be to focus on the most salient addressable pain for your customer.
If the pain you are trying to cure is not the pain that keeps your customer up at night, you need to shift. More specifically, if you consistenly find that your identified pain is not near the top of your customer’s hierarchy of pain, you either need to get new customers or focus on a new pain.
Tools: Laptop, Isolation
- Read Ian McAllister’s post about press releases and how they use press releases at Amazon.
- Write the press release for your offering. Describe a perfect implementation of the minimum feature set.
- Imagine sitting down with a potential customer (which you will do next week) and selling them what you have described. Do you think that they would be willing to buy what you have described?
- If you do not genuinely believe that other people would buy what you have described in your press release, go back to step 2.
- Does your business model still makes sense in light of your press release. If not, adjust your business model and/or go back to step 2.
The press release is the fastest form of iteration known to man. Although it can (will) take hours to get your press release in good form, getting crisp about your value proposition is the most efficient way to capture and communicate your understanding of the customer pain. If you find yourself needing a bullet list of features (“…but wait, there is more!”) in order to get yourself excited, you are still outside the strike zone. Only when you know that your press release is awesome are you ready to try it out on potential customers.
Challenge 1: some people will assert “you are not the customer – you can only get meaningful feedback from an objective, potential customer.” This is true, but not relevant. Even though your customer is the final arbiter of the quality of your press release You can, however, optimize your interactions with potential customers by making sure that you have done as much work up front as possible. If you schedule a meeting with a potential customer and ask them to tell you about their problems, great. But if you schedule a meeting with a potential customer to talk about your solution, you must be as prepared to validate your hypothesis and get feedback on your offer in a manner that is respectful of their time.
Challenge 2: some people assert that you need to write software in order to understand the problem. This is incorrect: you need to write software to understand the solution, but a solution without a problem is the absolute worst place a software startup can find itself. At some point, a transition from the idealized world of the press release to the bug-laden world of software must happen, and compromises will be made. But, by starting with the press release, and getting feedback on the press release, the founder will better understand what solutions resonate with the customer and where compromise is not an option.