How to test a startup idea and get the first potential customers? | by Irina Nik | Nov, 2021


Use case of testing a startup idea by faking a product and conducting ads campaign to get initial contacts.

Illustration from Freepik.com

Idea stage startups often struggle to get potential customers’ attention for their research. If a product doesn’t exist yet, it might be useful to just fake it and see people’s reactions.

This validation method is referred as Fake door testing. It can be the first iteration of lean startup loop defined by Eric Ries. With minimum effort it allows to get first insights.

I’ve used the fake door method with social media advertisement to get the initial insight for a design learning platform. It was the first testing iteration. It allowed us to get initial insights for the next sprint.

We’ve built a landing page describing our product and made a waiting list form to collect the first contacts.

The sources about fake door testing that I managed to find usually suggest to measure conversion rate in order to understand if there is a demand for the idea. Like Tomer Sharon in his book Validating Product Ideas or Tomi Mester in his article. In other words it is suggested to use this test in order to understand if people want the product.

But in this case the test would not be able to answer the question why do people want or don’t want the product. And this information is vital for further decision making.

To answer the question why, I’ve decided to combine fake door testing with qualitative research. NNgroup suggests that qualitative research helps to find an answer why, inform design decisions and requires fewer participants. Exactly what we need at the first step.

I was cold texting people that left their contacts on the landing page arranging interviews with them.

  • We’ve built a landing page with an invitation to sign up.
  • When users clicked on the signup, they were informed that the enrollment is currently closed. They are suggested to leave their contact to be notified when the enrollment is open and get a free UI guide.
  • With a marketing specialist, we’ve created several ad banners with several copies variations and launched them on several audiences groups
  • When people were leaving their contacts, I was cold texting them asking for a short call in exchange for a free piece of product content in a few weeks when we launch. In reality, this was the only piece of content that we were able to produce in this time frame.
  • Among different types of customers, we were able to identify the one that has the biggest unanswered needs our team is capable to solve
  • We verified some of our hypotheses about potential customers and dismissed those that were wrong.
  • We found new insights about the customers that we were not thinking about
  • We confirmed our main hypothesis about the main problem but found out that none of the solutions we were thinking about would work
  • We got $0,48 per click, $7.53 cost per lead, and $21.34 cost per contact. Which is not sustainable for our model, we have to think about something else.

The ad campaign cost us $128. It allowed us to get many insights and understand how should we change the direction for the next iterations.

I found conducting a test Facebook ad campaign can bring insights even by itself.

  • It helps to estimate the attention your idea can get. If the product is out tomorrow will be there someone using it.
  • If social media will be a part of the marketing strategy it can help to calculate the approximate cost of the lead and decide if an idea has potential
  • It helps to understand which types of customers are more interested in the idea and what idea attracts them most.

Here is what I would advise you to do after going through the process myself.

  • If you are collecting the contacts, don’t make the waiting list announcement on the first page. Make an impression that the product already exists and when visitors try to sign up for it, suggest them to join the waiting list. This way you can get more realistic numbers for the initial conversion: among all the visitors, how many would consider trying it.
  • Offer people something useful right away when they are on the waiting list page. Few would consider leaving their contacts for a product that they cannot get immediately. Give people something now in exchange for their contacts. For example, I was offering a free UI guide for students that were interested in my learning platform.
  • When you’ve gathered the contacts and you are afraid to call right away (like me), send a very short message with a question that is difficult to answer negatively.
    The first answer is the most challenging. Once you get it, it’s much easier to set up a call. For example, I was asking if they managed to download the UI guide, which I’ve left on the waiting list page.
  • Hire an SMM specialist to set the ad campaign for you. Otherwise, you might risk spending the money on the advertisement without any result



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