Competitive Industry! How “Prospect Listening” Saved My Ass (Part Three)

Part Three: Do Or Die -> Step 2 And 3 Of “Becoming An Outlier”

To end this series, the training wheels come off and we’ll run through brainstorming financially viable ideas and the scientific way to hate your ideas. Think of this last part as your personal idea feedback loop. Also, a few advanced growth marketing tactics will be discussed.

Disclaimer: If you’re a new reader of this series, there’s a small chance you won’t fully understand some of what’s discussed below. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 to help you catch up.


Step 2: Brainstorm Financially Viable Ideas That Solve Users’ Core Problem---->

This is the longest stage of the entire process. Take a long look at the list you’ve made from step one and write down as many ideas as you can, while aligning them with the end result that users already love and are accustomed to in your industry.
The key here is to think as outside-the-box/creative as possible because you’re only trying to improve a weakness. And no, I don’t mean coming up with a disruptive new idea. It could be something as simple as offering a more attractive user experience. It doesn’t take much to paint a different kind of user experience in competitive industries. In other words, think of different ways to get users the same core goal, if not with more value (where core goal is the outcome they’re used to, like Uber supplying transportation or Costco giving customers cheap prices).
Some multi-billion dollar startups have found success not by disrupting a competitive industry with an innovative idea, but by improving the experience. Take Tinder for example. The concept is the same as that of thousands of other dating sites, but they improved the user experience of the match-making process. Who knew swiping for matches was more enjoyable over clicking “send message” under a pretty girl’s bio? Tinder even admits that there are a ton of options to choose from on their website. Seriously, their website! See the image below:
Indie Hackers - Tinder's Why Choose Us
The result of Tinder’s hard work? A $10 billion dollar valuation and over $1.4 billion in ARR!

Another really good example would be Amazon’s early days as an online bookstore. They didn’t invent the concept of selling books online. Barnes and Noble (the largest bookstore within the US at the time) had been experimenting with the idea years before Amazon came to being in 1996 (though they didn’t launch their website till around 1997), but Jeff Bezos declined working together with Barnes and Noble for this reason: he was focusing on using Barnes and Noble’s size at the time (358 brick and mortar stores) against them. This screenshot of Amazon’s early days website pretty much explains it:
Indie Hackers - Amazon Early Days Online Bookstore

Step 3: Develop Deep Hatred For Your Ideas ---->

The final, yet the most crucial stage. Unlike subconsciously being your worst enemy through imposter syndrome, in this stage, you’re voluntarily being your worst enemy. Throw as many grenades as you can at your ideas. Force yourself to accept that they won’t work by listing strong data or research-backed reasons why. Some ways you could do this are by:

  • Carrying out a series of social sentiment analysis on something similar
  • Researching competitors doing something very close
  • Thinking of niche audiences within your competitive industry and who’d be the best fit
  • Bouncing the idea off 3 different sets of friends (friends who’d least likely use the product, friends who’d fit your target audience and friends who you’d consider experts in that industry).
  • Pitching the ideas to prospects (in a conversational way- no selling!)
  • Doing a ton of “prospect listening”

Prospect listening means you’ll go beyond the surface with prospects to try to understand how they make their choices on a psychological level. In other words, you’ll construct powerful questions that allow you to psychologically mine a prospect’s brain and heart for their hidden desires.
Those same hidden desires that convince them that getting your soon-to-be modified product/service or entirely new offering is the best thing for them. It gets easier the more you do it, especially if you’re the type to analyze each conversation you have with a prospect. The better you carry out these things the stronger your idea becomes.
It will transform from a mere theory, to a realistic new edge for your company due to your research and the data you’ve gathered. Turning your strongest idea into a prototype becomes 1000x easier once you’ve done steps 1, 2 and 3 well. For prospect listening: I personally fuse my consultative sales background, my customer success background and my marketing background.
But I know that takes quite a while to master, so you could instead try to modify some of Pipedrive’s amazing guide on consultative selling. Try to make it feel like a pleasant conversation for the user, not a sales pitch and your end goal is to gain hidden insights. In other words, think of what it is you wish you knew (could be data perhaps or something else) that would justify your idea.
You can also choose to carry out step 3 as you brainstorm each idea from step 2.

Pro Tip: Try not to completely write off an idea, especially in the early stages. Just “archive” it. With steps 2 and 3 acting as a feedback mechanism, your own understanding will become enhanced overtime. Meaning? Sometimes your first idea only needs a few more tweaks to end up becoming your champion.

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I’ve partnered with the CEO of that startup to go in the fields and carry out my “prospect listening” process. In my next release, I’ll go in-depth by sharing all the steps I took, along with visual takeaways and insightful data from my demo. Ensure to hit follow me here on Indie Hackers so you’re notified as soon as I release it.

  1. 1

    Thanks for sending this to me. Good advice. A few thoughts to add to what you wrote:

    • Advocating / Defending your idea:

    I just want to preface my two points with this point. It's natural to defend / advocate your idea when talking to other people. Don't do this. This is a form of selling, and if you're vetting an idea, your goal is to determine if the problem is real and if your solution is viable. Vetting is the stage before selling and if you (deliberately or inadvertently) sell the person you're talking to you'll end up with a false positive. A false positive in this case is an idea you think is good, will sap up years of your life, and leave you with nothing. You want to do everything you can to avoid false positives, and that means learning to listen without getting defensive about your idea.

    There is a difference between defending and clarifying though. If an objection to the idea is made, you can state your solution to that problem. For example, if someone says they wouldn't use it because it doesn't have quickbooks integration, you can say how you've solved that. Don't belabor the point. The more you talk, the more likely it is that you're actually selling.

    Why is this important? Because you are spending more time with this person communicating your idea than you will ever have once you start selling it. The meeting might be 15 minutes.. Once you start selling it, you'll have a few moments. No one spends 15 minutes reading random startup webpages just to see if they can apply it to their lives. If simply stating your idea does not make its value obvious, then you need to go back and refine it.

    • Re: Friends

    There are two types of friends (and family): Supportive and Honest. Supportive people will tell you white lies to be encouraging and positive about your efforts (in life, startups, etc). Honest people will give you constructive feedback and tell you what they really think even if it's negative.

    The problem is that social norms ensure supportive people are more common than honest people. Supportive is seen as positive... and people want to be nice and encouraging to their friends. People (founders, and generally) naturally want to defend their idea and want people to like their idea... so they'll embrace the supportive friends, and distance themselves from honest friends... this is part of the feedback loop that ensures supportive people in society are more common than honest people.

    The problem is that the supportive feedback may not be real and if that's what you listen to, a false positive is more likely. While being supportive is seen as friendly, there's nothing friendly about encouraging someone to go down a road to failure that will take a substantial toll on your self esteem, finances, career development, etc. My best friends are those that give constructive honest feedback. Find and value these people because they will save you an enormous amount of time chasing bad ideas.

    Most of your friends will be supportive people so it's better to treat them like prospects.

    • Re: Prospects

    Founders often want to tell their idea to the prospect and see what they think. Don't do this.. you're just encouraging supportive people to tell you that you're smart/etc. You're not talking to a prospect for kudos. You're trying to prevent spending years of your life on a bad idea. You have to put your ego aside.

    Ask them about the problem youre solving. Do they have that problem? If so, how have they tried to solve it? What are they spending ($) to workaround the problem? This is important, because there are many minor problems in peoples lives, but they're so minor no action is taken to address them. If they won't take any action to address the problem, they will never be looking for your startup if you build it.

    Once you fully understand their problem, you'll know if your idea solves it.. go ahead and state your startup idea (again: in a short clear way-- no selling/advocating/arguing). Listen to their feedback.

    (I would skip this part if they're a friend.) If they like your idea, get some kind of commitment from them. Ask them for $1, for example. The point is weed out the supportive people. If they said the idea was great, the problem is really a problem, and it solved their problem... if that was the truth, they wouldn't have an issue with a minor commitment. If they object, dig into this a bit and see if you can uncover their real objection to the solution. If they won't commit, put them down as a soft-yes. Keep in contact, but if everyone you talk to is a no or soft-yes, I would seriously reconsider the idea.

    1. 1

      Happy you liked it Ramsey and I like these perspectives, especially the part about friends. For the last point, I'd say it depends. Sometimes people don't know they have that problem and also sometimes founders just focus on solving a problem, instead of also, how it's solved. Example: Like with the Tinder example, the main problem would be to easily match with someone online. Tinder also focused on how the matching process is done. It's similar to A/B testing in CRO. People just have different preferences that they sometimes don't know how to share, so you have to find a way to extract that.

      1. 1

        I would say most people are dissatisfied with online dating... that was the case before Tinder and I doubt that has changed. Tinder worked on a problem that anyone that has tried online dating knows is a problem.

        I can't disagree more about working on a problem that "people don't know they have". Once you build this product, how are you going to find your customers? They don't know they have the problem you solved, so how will you reach them? They're not searching for you... they're happy with their lives and aren't even aware it needs improvement.

        Solutions for problems people don't know they have can be GitHub projects. They're not startups though because they will never generate substantial growth or earnings.

        1. 1

          It's something to do with the perception of convenience as we know it. It was in a pretty popular Ted Talk episode so it's that episode that made me a believer that people have problems they don't know they have. The presenter went into the psychology behind it and it truly made sense. Sometimes us marketers have to remove bias and go beyond the surface of logical thinking when dealing with consumers. But I still won't demote your point because I believe every opinion can be tested and I'm all open for experimenting.

  2. 1

    I totally agree on this! Like Michael Siebel from Y Combinator said - find reasons to "not do your idea", and be hard on yourself! After the process, evaluate if those reasons are serious enough, and if there's a way to workaround them.

    Can you explain more about the best tactics for prospect pitching without selling?

    1. 1

      That's a really good question and one that's very complex to answer in a generic way (I'd have to know your business), but personally, I use prospect listening to most effectively carry out prospect pitching. And a tactic I tend to use sometimes to start prospect listening is by: asking the stupid questions.
      You have to think like the prospect. Like for example, asking yourself how would you act if you have 0 knowledge about your industry, like digital marketing in my case.
      I did this for when I came up with my "7 growth marketing skills bundled together" competitive edge because I asked myself: If I had a small local shop, didn't know shit about digital marketing and also barely had enough capital and wanted to go and successfully thrive online, what would I need and how much would I have to spend for true success?
      I then went out and started interviewing entrepreneurs with an existing online presence or if they knew anyone who shared that experience. Then I also searched for the entrepreneurs that don't have an online presence (excluding Google My Business) and asked if they ever took the steps to try to get one. Why? I wanted to see what they did to get here. How did they respond and what were the steps they took? Were they happy with what it took to get there, financially and emotionally? What were their doubts?
      I listened and listened and documented everything, including the trends between younger and older entrepreneurs and also the percentage of people that took the same next steps and I eventually acted on one of those pain-points and it worked well for Targeted Right.
      Think of prospect listening like a form of social science. You're trying to understand entirely different sets of minds that doesn't belong to you. Your mission, as a knowledgeable marketer, is to get from point A, to point B (seeing them in you).
      This make prospect pitching much easier because you're now directly telling them what other entrepreneurs like them have told you and letting them imagine a world where your new idea would fix that. Think of it as the same science behind prospects trusting a testimonial but instead, you're acting as the medium/messenger.
      I hope this helps in answering your question.

  3. 0

    Got spammed this link on reddit.

    I'm sure OP wants people to come here, write a comment, upvote his post... but you spammed me.

    That's not how you reach out to people.


    Hey RossDCurrie, I like the comment you gave back there and wanted to share this Indie Hackers article I wrote that breakdowns how to handle startup competition (from a growth hacker's POV): https://www.indiehackers.com/post/competitive-industry-how-prospect-listening-saved-my-ass-part-three-c3f495ebb5 Think it's 10/10 or nah?

    I'm sure "the comment" was real helpful to you.

    1. 1

      Actually, no. I wrote this to help startup founders and then I dm'd those on Reddit I see on posts, having issues with competitors. In other words, I simply did outreach to provide value. Some people use emails, others that wants to make it more personalized, use social media.

      I apologize if you see it as "spam" but to present allegations of me trying to boost my post by spamming people makes no sense. I can show you dozens of screenshots of founders thanking me for this article and me feeling good that I could help them.

      You may not be one of them, and that's fine. You could've atleast asked me why I'm doing this before running to play "troll, the internet hero".

      1. 0

        It's an unsolicited link sent to me without opt-in, to promote a post on another platform. That's spam.

        It appears to be automated... that's spam.

        As far as I can tell, it's not related to anything I've posted, except for the fact that I posted a comment in /r/entrepreneur. I don't have issues with competitors.

        This community thrives because it's indiehackers helping each other, not spamming each other. I apologize if you think that makes me seem like I'm playing "troll, the internet hero" - I can send you dozens of screenshots of people thanking me for calling them out on their bullshit.

        1. 1

          Definition of Spam: Sending unsolicited, irrelevant messages over the internet. How does that apply if I found you on a post regarding the hardships of startup competition.
          Second, r/entrepreneur? I didn't even use that subreddit, nor was it automated.

          You're clearly trying to pitch your "calling out on bullshit" website critique services that you offer and I have no problem. I hope you get leads on it.

          But yeah, it happened and we both acknowledged and accepted each other's views and came at a conclusion. Let's both act like grown adults now and go do something productive. I really have no time for the classic troll-like "back and forth under a post" playtime. Enjoy your weekend.

          1. 0

            Definition of Spam: Sending unsolicited, irrelevant messages over the internet. How does that apply if I found you on a post regarding the hardships of startup competition.

            What post? Seems to me like you used a tool to find people posting/commenting on certain topics.

            Also, it was unsolicited. Why not just reply to my comment with a link to your post? Because you'd get reported for spam.

            Second, r/entrepreneur? I didn't even use that subreddit, nor was it automated.

            It's pretty much the only sub I post in. If it wasn't that sub, it's probably a really old post. The fact that you don't reference the post in the message indicates it was a generic message sent to a whole bunch of people. Ie, spam.

            You're clearly trying to pitch your "calling out on bullshit" website critique services that you offer and I have no problem. I hope you get leads on it.


            But yeah, it happened and we both acknowledged and accepted each other's views and came at a conclusion. Let's both act like grown adults now and go do something productive. I really have no time for the classic troll-like "back and forth under a post" playtime. Enjoy your weekend.

            I do not accept your view. You claim to be "giving value" but all you are doing is "asking".

            And spamming.

            How spamming usually goes:

            1. Make spammy post / DM
            2. Get defensive when people call you out, insert some claim about "giving value" by spamming a link to a blog post
            3. Initiate personal attack on person calling you out
            4. General refusal to acknowledge you've done anything wrong and attempt to claim high-road and that people who call you out are in the wrong.
            5. Attempt to "get the last word" and make it seem unreasonable if anyone replies to that.

            This is not a good growth strategy. At best you'll get low quality customers.

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