I’ve worked on several startups, and I’ve learned there are a few key steps that many entrepreneurs are missing. As I start to build out an entirely new venture with a small team, I’m dedicating myself to learning from past mistakes and creating a formula for success. I want to share that with others in the same boat and hear their feedback.
The early stages are the most crucial. Many entrepreneurs build a product but skip the most vital part of getting started: talking to potential users. As I’m building out my product, I’ve had one person entirely focused on building focus groups and getting beta testers. Here’s how I did it, and hopefully this can help you out.
The early stages:
So you’ve got an idea from an observation you’ve made, or maybe it’s just a hunch. The first thing you should do is find out if it works. Ask your target demographic. The best way to get the audience you need for a focus group is to attend a related meetup group or to start your own. I have my own group here in San Francisco, but I also attend a few key meetups and discussion groups and my team is also clued into some niche groups so we can spread the word. If you want to start your own group, which is a fantastic way to build a network for the present and future, here are some pro tips to get you going.
Pro Tip #1: Use Meetup.com. There are already lots of related groups there, so start by attending those. Build your network from existing ones. Then start your own and do targeted outreach to make potential attendees feel like they’d be missing out if they didn’t attend.
Pro Tip #2: If you bail on the Meetup.com payments page, you’ll get a coupon offer emailed to you within a couple days.
Pro Tip #3: Unless you have a strong network waiting, you might have to pay for the first few meetups out of pocket to show growth and reliability to sponsors (this cost me about $200-300 a pop for about 2 meetups, but it’s built me a strong network that I consider to be priceless). Then you can approach companies and get space to host the meetup more easily.
Pro Tip #4: Once you have an idea and a solid guest list, don’t be afraid to reach out to businesses in your community to help sponsor your meetup. They’re usually more than happy to help either with free use of their space or with some pizza or beers for your guests.The more meetups you host, the easier this will get.
Once you’ve met the people who you would consider your target demographic, collect them in a focus group. These will be your first users. Describe what you’re trying to do and ask them if they see the problem. Ask them if they would purchase your service and if it actually solves a real need for them. You might actually find out it doesn’t, but another idea or pain point might present itself that you can work on.
You are officially in the early stages of discovery and iteration. You’ll continue to iterate on the product and discover what your users really want by meeting with this focus group and calling upon these people for their feedback.
What have you done during the early stages to get beta testers and customer feedback? Share your secrets with the community!