The most awkward part of building a startup is also the thing people skip the most: interviewing potential customers before you have a product.
It shouldn’t be that surprising considering most startup advice books/blogs will tell you to do one of the following:
- run down to Starbucks with a sketch of your app, and start asking random people what they think of your idea
- cold email/call people who are in your target market and ask them about your solution
- ask your friends what they think and try to tell if they’re lying
As an introvert, this kind of stuff stresses me out. And most people end up skipping these interviews or asking just their best friend what he/she thinks, which leads to a lot of failed companies. So here’s a better way:
Get people in your target market to call you.
The first time I tried this method, I interviewed 10 people in one hour and learned a ton about my idea. The secret? Using Amazon mTurk Request, which is a marketplace full of thousands of people around the world looking to complete short tasks to make money. Total cost was $45, and total time spent was 2 hours. Not bad, and way better than trying to fix my fear of going up to strangers at Starbucks. Follow these steps to try it out.
1. Create a new project on Amazon and aim it at your target market:
- This should read like a hybrid of a survey and job posting. A good example title: “Looking for people who use Venmo for brief survey about their payment habits”
- In the posting type, you can create a survey, request a phone call, or do both. My strategy here was to have a 3 question survey with a few questions about the problem I was trying to solve. After the 3 questions, I added a field asking if they’d be open to a quick follow-up call, and if so to leave their phone number, name, and the best time to call.
- You need to add a reward for each assignment completed. I set my reward at $1 for the survey completion and specified in the post another $5 if they got on the call with me after.
2. Target the right audience:
- Click on “add additional criteria” near the bottom of the page to make sure you are getting the right people to respond. If you’ve ever used Facebook Ads, the process is similar.
- I added the following as a baseline: “Lives in the US, has a Twitter + Facebook account, has a bachelor’s degree, household income > $50k”
- You can use the title to get more specific: “Looking for dairy farmers who use Tumblr”
3. Flip it live and ask the right questions:
- The golden rule for survey and interview questions: talk about the problem, not the solution you’re building. If I’m building an app to help Venmo users put their balance into savings, I’m not going to mention my app once in the questions or call. Instead, I’ll ask questions like “where does your Venmo balance go today?” “How much do you save per month?” “what do you use Venmo for?” etc
- Depending on the time of day and who you’re targeting, give yourself enough time to respond to incoming surveys and conduct follow-up calls. The first few times I did this, I took it down after I had 20 responses and then flipped it back live once I had processed those and was ready for the next batch.
And that’s it! This method has its downsides – it’s not free and doesn’t work well with high-end markets. But for collecting valuable data from unbiased sources, it’s way too easy to be ignored. So give it a try and let me know what you learn. Hopefully, it’s all good things, but if your problem doesn’t seem to be shared by those in your target market, it might be time to think up a new startup idea.