As we’ve talked about in previous blog posts, when Bruno and I started building Anzu, we fell victim to one of the most notorious misconceptions of many first-time builders: “build it and they will come”. Of course, nobody came to use our original versions (!) of Anzu.
So after a long time of trying out different things, we finally took the useful advise to our hearts and started over. No demo would attract the valuable feedback we need for the early phases of our product. We started validating.
Set out to learn about real problems teams have, our journey begun. And with it some unique challenges:
Many founders tap into their vast network for feedback. Now, both Bruno and I, despite our experience don’t have a lot of contacts the besides colleagues we had over the years. This is not the fault of our network, of course, merely a side effect of being a young founder. So we tapped into the largest network of professionals we could find: LinkedIn.
What we’ve learned on LinkedIn so far
LinkedIn is a great tool to reach out to people you don‘t know directly, but might have common contacts with. We‘ve reached a rate of ~2 online interviews per week. While this might not sound like much, it‘s already providing a huge input for us to validate our problem hypothesis on.
We use a vague connection request message that still makes people interested in talking to us. In contrast to outreach we‘d do when selling a solution, asking people of their time (for free) is a much harder sell. So, what works for us is slight targeting. We already know who we want to talk to (digital agency founders/project managers). To not spoil our validation, we give them a very vague problem statement.
We target our outreach to a small group of people. While we have a high interest in a good sample size, similar to sales, an ICP (ideal customer profile) is of key importance. It keeps us going to know that people will accept our connection requests and eventually talk to us. We‘ll also already have the first touch point to eventually selling our software once we‘re ready. For us, that meant to focus our lead generation (after all, we still need to know who we want to contact) to digital agencies with 5 to 30 employees.
We follow up. What sounds obvious to everybody in sales, did not seem as obvious to us in the beginning. We keep our following up spaced out well enough not to seem too salesy (after all, we‘re not yet selling something). 10% of our interviews came from following up.
We actively pivot when there’s good data to do so. The most important thing after listening is learning from those interviews. We could not validate our initial problem hypothesis, but one interview led us to a unique unsolved problem. So we took off from there to learn if more businesses had this idea, and they did.
30 minutes is the bare minimum for a good interview We tried to have 15 minute long interviews, and they were way too short. 30 minutes gives us enough time to learn about the person and their experiences.
So, are we validating now? I think we are. It took us a long time to get there, but it is the most interesting part for me since we’ve started out. Not only does it help us to figure out the problems businesses and people face, we‘re also getting much more comfortable doing it. In the beginning, I didn’t even consider sending somebody an outreach message — now I’m actively embracing it.
And before you go, if you’re interested in reading a hands-on guide to validation, The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick really hits that sweet spot. Go read it if you‘re considering validating your idea/problem.