Summary: Steve Blank and others advocate having lots of face-to-face interviews with potential customers. While this approach yields the best possible insight, it also takes a lot of time to get introductions and meet people, particularly for those with a day job who are working part time on their startup. I’ve used Craigslist to successfully recruit candidates with Amazon gift cards and quickly got insight into whether my initial idea had merit. In this post I explain how to do it and share a job template to help you get started.
Face-to-face Interviews: Most Insight, Longest Time
In keeping with my promise to write more how-to Lean Startup content in 2013, here is a quick hack you can use to expedite Customer Development on Craigslist.
Steve Blank advocates face-to-face interviews with potential customers and I fully agree with this approach – it has been my most effective tool to get true market insight and recruit early customers. Unfortunately, as anyone who has actually tried it knows, it can take an enormous amount of time to find customers to talk to, setup face-to-face meetings, and collect everything to get insight.
If you’re working a day job and trying to squeeze interviews into evenings, weekends, and lunches, it can take weeks and months to even get initial insight.
Fast Initial Insight with Craigslist
The basic idea is to post a job on Craigslist offering a $30 Gift card in exchange for 30 minutes of market research.
- Quickly get a lot of calls scheduled
- Schedule and batch calls when it is convenient for you
- Candidates will do a lot of the grunt work
- Costs a few hundred bucks
- REALLY easy to get bad information if you ask the wrong questions
- Few opportunities to recruit actual customers.
Case Study Example – Health Savings Account (HSA) Management Tool
A few years ago I started researching startup ideas around a relatively new but growing consumer financial services product – Health Savings Accounts. The details don’t matter, but after a few weeks of research and discussions with industry experts I thought there would be a need for an application to manage the tedious tax components of HSAs.
I tried getting introductions but quickly realized that most people in my network didn’t have HSA accounts. And even when they did, it took a lot of persuasion to get people to meet and talk about it. After a few weeks I knew a bunch of theory, tax law and policy but next to nothing about how consumers used their HSAs. My next option was to try to start reaching people through corporate HR channels; having tried this before I knew it was a long, long slog.
I realized I needed a faster way to get an initial market signal – did anyone at all care about my idea? So I turned to Craigslist and got my answer.
New Gmail Account
I got a new Gmail account at HSAResearchFirm@gmail.com or something like. Why a new email account is useful:
- The “Research” name adds more credibility
- You can use the new calendar to get candidates to schedule calls.
- You don’t give crazy people on Craigslist your email account or name.
Craigslist Job Ad Copy
After testing various options, I got best results from:
- Emphasizing we were a startup working on a new product idea – attracted smart people.
- Making the expectations, dates and times clear.
- Asking open-ended qualification questions, e.g. “Email us and tell us why you would be a good candidate.”
While I don’t have the original ad copy from this project, here is an example you can have .
Post in Jobs – > ETC (et cetera jobs)
Craigslist has some free options to post jobs. Unfortunately my – seemingly rather civil – posts kept getting flagged and pulled.
After wasting a few hours I ultimately it was just easier to pay the $75 and post it to “et cetera” jobs.
Create Interview Slots
Next I opened up my new Gmail Calendar and blocked out slots in times that were convenient for me in 30-minute intervals. Here are instructions on how to do this.
I waited until I had about ~50 responses before even looking at them. After deleting ~50% who obviously didn’t even read the ad I identified about 15 that looked like they could provide good insight.
Some of the responses were so detailed and informative that I was already getting answers to my primary questions. I responded to the top 15 and sent them instructions. About 10 followed-up and picked times.
The Customer Development Calls
Previously I had made the mistake of asking False Positive questions on this project. I learned that because all of the people – even those who felt interested and personally connected to the project – were very motivated to get their $35 Amazon Gift Card and would tell me whatever they thought I wanted to hear.
This time I stuck to the script and tried to get to a few simple answers based on how these consumers behaved today.
The Results: They had No Perceived Problem
After 5 calls I had a good sense that I was on the wrong track, and after 10 I had seen exactly 0 encouraging signals to get me excited about pursuing the project. I’ll spare you the details, but it was clear that all of my problem and needs hypothesis were way off track.
While I didn’t get then answer I wanted, using Craigslist got me to the truth months sooner than my initial options.
New Alternative: TaskRabbit
Want to review your call script with me? Don’t understand this process?
Ask below or schedule some startup help time with me.
Photo credit: InfoMofo