March 7, 2011

Elizabeth Yin: You don't need a programmer, you need a market survey

Posted in Software at 07:24 by graham

These days, for most internet businesses, the number one challenge is customer acquisition and marketing — not building a website. The overwhelming majority of startups that fail don’t fail because their website didn’t work. They fail because not enough people used it. This means that as entrepreneurs, we need to do a better job of vetting our markets before even building anything. It’s just too much of a waste to build out things that people don’t want.

From Elizabeth Yin’s talk at Web 2.0 Expo.

The crux of her talk (the talk hasn’t happened yet, I’m extrapolating from the linked interview) looks to be that you probably don’t need to start building yet, and what that means is you don’t need a technical co-founder yet. You need to vet your market first. Here’s what she suggests:

  • Hire a designer to build a landing page for your product. Use Wufoo or Google Forms to build a signup form. See if anyone signs up.

  • Put up an online survey, using something like Survey Monkey, saying “What would you be prepared to pay for a service that did X? How often would you use it? What if it only did this part of X?”. And so on.

  • Find your market. “Finding product-market fit is essentially about finding power-users or passionate users, that first core group of people who absolutely love your product. In order for this to happen, you’ll want to find this customer-type while also evolving your product concept to have just 1-2 functions that really resonate with these people.”

  • Do customer interviews. Once you have found people you think might use your service, go talk to them.

Then, and only then, are you ready to start building. Elizabeth Yin has this to say about your next step:

Finding a technical co-founder is hard! My technical friends and I get approached with technical co-founder requests all the time for unvetted ideas. But if you can vet your market beforehand and say in quantitative terms “hey — here’s the number or percentage of people who signed up for this product, messaged at this price,” then you’ll have a lot more credibility. Even better is if you have actually pre-sold your product. This will make your request get noticed.

Being a technical co-founder is a huge commitment; you’re asking someone to commit tens of thousands of dollars of time to your idea. What gives you the confidence to say that once we’ve built it, they really will come?

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