This is the first chapter in our new series called Scaling Up, which will show you the exact, step-by-step process you need to take an idea, validate it, turn it into a business and generate sales, customers, and repeat orders. Make sure you subscribe to get notified when additional chapters are added.
In early 2016, we weren’t planning to start a new SaaS company.
Instead, we were focused on growing a successful consulting business.
As we set up a website, we knew we needed a reliable lead capture and follow-up process.
We wanted it to be easy:
- A prospect submits a form with their name, email, and details about their company and marketing spend
- We get a notification and reply
- The conversation is tracked in a way that’s easy for us to manage
It should have been simple. It was anything but.
We tried Salesforce. We tried Insightly. We tried SurveyMonkey. We tried Typeform. None of them could be easily setup the way we wanted. Ultimately, we stitched several services together using Zapier and a few other hacks.
It worked, but the process of setting it up was frustrating. Why was something so simple in concept so difficult in practice?
(Note: Looking for a simple tool for lead capture on your website? Fieldboom can help. Try it free for 15 days.)
The Initial Idea for Fieldboom
Our frustrations got us thinking.
If a simple lead capture process was so frustrating for us, it was probably frustrating for other companies, too.
If we created a super-simple piece of software that made lead capture and follow-up easy, could that be a viable business?
We weren’t sure. We thought it was an idea with potential, but we didn’t want to build a business based on an assumption.
Unfortunately, many companies spend months or years building a product before ever thinking about how they’ll make money from it.
Instead, we did the work to validate our idea in the market — even as we worked on our MVP.
In the process, we found a target market for our product, and we verified that — yes — people would pay real money for it.
In what follows, we’ll detail:
- The exact process we used to validate demand for Fieldboom
- A simple, step-by-step process you can use to validate startup ideas in your work
- Why we believe revenue is the ultimate form of validation — and how we got people to pay for our product before it was released
We “Scratched Our Own Itch” to Find an Idea
Startup ideas can come from many places (as we’ll discuss later in this post).
In the case of Fieldboom, we found our idea by “scratching our own itch.”
We paid attention to what happened in our own lives and our own work, and we found a problem — lead capture and follow-up — that caused us a great deal of frustration.
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, this is a great way to generate startup ideas for a potential business.
But you — by yourself — are a sample size of one.
We wanted more than just our own opinion before we jumped in and started building a new product.
How to Generate Startup Ideas: 4 Proven Methods
Before we describe the process we used to validate the market for Fieldboom, we should spend a moment talking about startup ideas in general.
“Scratch your own itch” isn’t the only way to generate a great idea for your startup.
The key to all four of the methods described below?
Don’t get fixated on product ideas.
Instead, fixate on problems.
Method 1: “Scratch Your Own Itch”
This is the method we used for Fieldboom.
To find problems from your life that could be viable business or product ideas, start a list.
Every day for a week, write down the things that frustrate you, aggravate you, or waste your time.
If any of those issues seem like a good idea, see if you can quickly validate that others have the same frustration by asking friends, family, or coworkers about their experiences.
If one of your problems
- Bothers other people
- Isn’t being solved by current products or solutions
It’s worth investigating further.
Method 2: Interview Other People
Can’t find a problem worth solving in your own life?
Interview people around you. Is there something in their lives that annoys or frustrates them?
Friends, family, co-workers… Most people are happy to talk about their problems, especially if you treat them to coffee while you do it.
Try to interview more than just one person.
Then look for patterns. Is there a problem or problems that come up again and again?
As she wrote on her website:
Method 3: Fast-follow Successful Businesses
Is there a product that’s growing like crazy that you can follow to success?
For example, there are hundreds of teeth whitening options on the market. From Crest White Strips to treatments at your local dentist, it may look at first like a market worth avoiding.
Not for Australian startup HiSmile, however, which saw strong competition as an indicator of the strength of the market — not a reason to avoid it.
They used influencer marketing to skyrocket their business to $20M and counting.
If you want to fast-follow another company to success, look at where existing users say it’s failing.
Our analysis gave us a picture of where our competition was strong — and where they had weaknesses.
The review above demonstrates some common complaints we heard about SurveyMonkey: zero refunds for disgruntled customers, poor support, and data issues.
Reviews can confirm whether the pain point you’re addressing is what others are experiencing.
Pro tip: Don’t trust Facebook comments about a brand or a product; you have no idea if those people have actually paid for a company’s product. Instead, look for paying customers with grievances.
Method 4: If You Have Customers or an Email List, Survey Them
If you already have a company or an established email list, your existing customers are a prime resource.
Sometimes, asking a good customer, “What do you want?” is all it takes.
Invite them to take a short survey that asks questions like:
- What are your current frustrations?
- What’s a product or feature you’d love to have?
- What could we do to improve our product?
Be careful not to use the feedback simply to add a dozen features to your existing product, which is how many products become bloated and difficult to use.
Instead, use the answers to think about completely new products or business ideas.
ConvertKit founder Nathan Barry, for example, has long used surveys to his audience to decide what books and online courses he should create.
(Note: Need a way to survey customers so you can figure our their frustrations and find opportunities? Try Fieldboom free for 15 days.)
The Methodical 3-Step Process We Used to Validate Market Demand
Once we had the idea for Fieldboom, we started a methodical 3-step process to validate market demand for the product.
We think of validation like building a stack.
It starts with personal experience — a single individual’s experience and frustrations, and their idea for a solution.
From there, it expands, adding validation from an expanding group of people:
- Personal friends and acquaintances
- Members of the target market
- A small cohort of paying customers
Combined, these three “layers” gave us the confidence we needed to move forward as we developed Fieldboom.
No matter where your startup idea comes from, this validation process can help you ensure your idea can create the ultimate validation of demand: revenue.
Validation Step #1: We Asked Our Network if They Had the Same Problem
In late 2016, we decided to seriously pursue the idea for Fieldboom.
The first step?
Checking with people we knew to see if they had similar frustrations with lead capture and follow-up.
We talked with them about the consulting business we were running. And how frustrating it was to glue a bunch of clunky solutions together just to create a lead capture process from our website.
Sure enough, many of the people we talked to all had the same experience.
“That’s just the way it is,” one of them told us. “You have to use Zapier to stitch it all together, then hope it works the way you want.”
With that, we had our second level of validation.
We weren’t the only ones who were frustrated with lead-capture solutions.
For us, this was enough validation that we felt okay about committing a few resources to the project.
Specifically, that meant:
- Developing initial wireframes of a product
- Launching a bare-bones website where we could build an audience (and continue validating the market).
Content Marketing During the Pre-Launch Phase
When we had initial validation of our idea, we moved quickly to start our marketing efforts.
We launched our bare-bones website in November 2016 — the same week we started wireframing the initial MVP.
Back then, it was essentially just a homepage and a blog.
During that first month, we only got 17 site visits. And in December, we had less than 50.
By January 2017, we got 1,500 site visits in a month.
We published interesting, high-quality articles that would be interesting to people doing marketing, then we promoted them in online communities where members of our target audience were likely to hang out.
Today, 16 months after launching the website, we’re seeing around 50,000 page views per month.
As our traffic climbed, we added a short CTA (call to action) in each post we published.
For example, we included the following CTA in a post about Facebook ad strategies.
As people signed up for the waiting list, we reached out to some of them to schedule demos before we launched the product (see below for more about what we offered people during these conversations).
For everyone else, our content marketing efforts created a list of people we could email when Fieldboom became available — a list that grew to 1,300 people before we launched Fieldboom in March of 2018.
Strategy insight: Today, we use the same contextual CTAs in all of our blog posts (including this one!), except now visitors can immediately sign up for a 15-day trial.
Validation Step #2: We Used Surveys to Validate the Idea Beyond Our Personal Connections
Even after we started marketing and wireframing, our validation work wasn’t done.
At this point, we believed enough in the idea that we were willing to commit a few resources to it.
We knew people were paying for similar products (Typeform, SurveyMonkey, Salesforce, etc.). And we had qualitative data from conversations with people we knew personally.
What didn’t we have?
The question we needed to answer was this:
Are people willing to pay for this idea?
As we discussed in our article about SaaS pre-launch strategy, our next step was to connect with people who we knew were in our target market.
Since SurveyMonkey followers were clearly members of our target market, we ran Facebook ads targeting them directly:
Some of our ads — like this one — offered free access to Fieldboom when it launched. Others simply asked for feedback about SurveyMonkey.
When someone clicked an ad, they landed on simple Fieldboom form that asked them about their experience.
Validation Step #3: We Offered a Demo, Then Tested if People Would Pay for Lifetime Access
The people who filled out the survey gave us qualitative data about our competition — and continued to build our pre-launch email list.
It also gave us another opportunity to reach out to people in our target market and offer a 30-minute demo.
Showing them what we were working on was a great way to get feedback on the product before we launched it to the public.
The most important reason for the demo, however, was an opportunity for us to offer lifetime access for $200 once Fieldboom launched.
Of the people we offered lifetime access to, about 1 in 3 said yes and gave us their credit card immediately.
By mid-2017, we had signed up 100 people to our private beta that way.
That was when we knew for certain that there was demand for a product like the one we were building.
It’s one thing to ask people: “Would you pay for this?”
It’s something entirely different to say to them, “Give me your credit card number.”
Until someone pays real money for your idea, you’re never quite sure if your idea can work.
When 100 people give you their credit card for a product, they’re telling you: “Yes, this idea is valuable. Yes, I will pay money for this.”
Why Revenue Is the Ultimate Market Validation for a Startup Idea
You now have a full process to take you from the initial idea for your startup all the way up to launch.
As you work on your MVP and build a pre-launch audience, don’t forget that there’s one question you must answer as soon as possible to see if your idea is viable:
Are people willing to pay money for this?
If someone is willing to put $50, $100, or $200 on a credit card to reserve a spot for your product, that is better than any survey result or SWOT analysis.
Pro tip: When you first ask for people to pay for your product, $50 is a good price, but $5 is not. You have to make it a high enough price that people have to stop and really consider spending the money.
Does revenue guarantee long-term success for your startup?
But if one person is willing to pay money for your idea, there’s a good chance others will too.
If you can find 20 or 50 or 100 people who are willing to pay money (as we did), that’s a huge positive sign for your future.
(Note: Fieldboom is the simple way to create forms, surveys, and quizzes. Try it free for 15 days.)