Most startups today do not face technological risks. The building is challenging and grueling, but it is known to be possible. Instead the majority of startups face market risks. It is usually unknown if the market actually wants the product you’re building.
Market risk is often ignored by entrepreneurs, especially technical founders. It is honestly just more interesting to start creating than to validate whether the problem you’re solving is painful and if your customers are actually interested in solving it.
In the early days I think it makes sense to spend minimal time building and instead spend time researching your market. There’s multiple ways to research, but I believe the way with most benefit and least amount effort is to start a blog. Many successful startups were created as blog first startups, including Groupon, AngelList, and Moz. These startups reaped the benefits of blogging before building.
Learn how to reach your target customers
If you can’t find people who are willing to invest 10 minutes reading your blog post, it’s going to be really challenging to find people willing to take the plunge on your product. By blogging, you’ll be forced to flex your distribution muscles to build readership. Luckily, most of the techniques used to find readers in the early days will be useful for finding early customers as well.
Does anyone care?
A popular blog post spreads because it resonates with readers. Building a blog following takes awhile, but you should be able to tell early on if people care about your startup’s pain points. If you are explaining how to solve a true pain point in someone’s life, he will take the time to click a link and read your post. If your readers share your posts on Twitter, Facebook and through email, and leave passionate comments, chances are you’ve hit a nerve with your potential customers.
Build an audience of early adopters
The people who read your posts are self identifying as potential early adopters of your product. Insert a call to action on each of your blog posts that links to a landing page designed to explain your product and gather email addresses. A good example of this technique is the Buffer blog, which strikes a nice balance between delivering content and peddling their product.
Enable comments on your blog and provide the opportunity for your audience to leave their thoughts. Don’t worry about negative comments – they are a good thing because they show people at least care enough to leave thoughts. Having no comments is probably the worst signal, as it generally means people are not passionate about your market.
Comments will also provide valuable feedback from your audience and start a dialogue with potential early adopters. Disqus comments are optimal because people generally use their real identify, which gives you an opportunity to reach our for more feedback via Twitter or email.
Solidify the pain points
By writing about your market and being forced to condense your ideas into specific blog posts, you’ll solidify exactly what the pain points are your customers face. If your idea is a social network for college students, but you can’t distill what the current challenges college students face when trying to meet peers, you’re in trouble. Teaching is the best litmus test for understanding.
Build with a better understanding
Startup founders, especially technical ones, often forget that users of a product are human. When building software, it’s easy to get wrapped up in edge cases and technical challenges, but writing is an exercise solely designed for communication with other human beings. As you write blog posts about your topic, you’ll build a mental model of exactly the types of people in your target market. Having a mental model of your users, and the exact use cases they are using your product to solve, is invaluable once you start building.
Are you actually interested in your market?
Startups are a long term time investment, usually taking 5-7 years to pan out. When your initial excitement wears off after the first few months, are you still going to be interested enough in the market to grind it out for years? If you can’t even sit down and write a few blog posts related to your market, you may want to think about changing ideas.
What do you think? Are there better ways to validate a startup idea and build an audience? Leave your thoughts and comments below.