I used to build products backwards. I’d come up with an idea in a vacuum. Spend 3-6 months building it while simultaneously freaking out because I didn’t know if anyone would want it. Then I’d launch it. No one would sign up. I’d get depressed for a week. Then I’d come up with a totally new idea.
In September, I finally woke up and realized I needed to talk to people first. Instead of starting with an idea, start with a market, a type of customer, learn from them and then come up with an idea.
I’ve been really interested in email newsletters, so I decided to target newsletter creators. I had no product ideas this time, so my goal was just to speak to as many people as possible.
My goal now was to find small independent newsletter creators (I don’t think I’m gonna be able to get in touch with the Mailbrew guy) and email them.
My first stop was IndieHackers. I simply searched “newsletter” and found a ton of posts relating to newsletters. A few that caught my eye were about cross promotion. Someone made a post asking if people wanted to cross promote and to reply with their newsletter site and subscriber count. This was gold. I went through the replies, skimmed each person’s newsletter site and actually subscribed to a lot of them! I added everyone to a spreadsheet so I could keep track of who I’ve reached out to.
After exhausting these cross promotion threads, I did some more IH searches and googling and found some newsletter directories. These were other great places to find small independent newsletter creators.
My goal for reaching out was to schedule 20 minute phone calls. So I decided I’d only email 10 people per week. I had a template email that I’d tweak a bit for each person. I’d add a personalized sentence at the top of the mail about their newsletter. And on Wednesdays I’d email 10 people from the spreadsheet.
I was hoping for a 10% conversion rate. Meaning I’d get 10 interviews for every 100 emails. But I was really surprised at how many people were willing to speak to me. I ended up with a 30% conversion rate! And that doesn’t include some people who didn’t want to do a phone call but were willing to answer some questions over email.
I was a little nervous to do these at first, but once you do 3, you get used to it. The main thing I had to remember was to try and not speak. Especially at the beginning. You don’t want to pitch an idea (which is good because I didn’t have one) but you do want to ask open ended questions and listen.
After introducing myself and setting up the call, I’d ask my first question and then just wait. It’s really uncomfortable. But if you try to reduce the silence by jumping in with another question or restating the question, you’re not going to give the interviewee the chance to just start talking. You don’t want to control the conversation, you just want to nudge it at certain points.
I would take notes during these interviews and then I’d retype/summarize my notes immediately after. This is really important because 1) if you don’t take notes you’ll forget things and only remember what you want to remember and 2) if you do take notes but don’t retype them immediately, they will be hard to understand when you look at them in the future.
It took me a long time to overcome my fear of reaching out to people and cost me many years and many software projects that ended up just getting thrown out.
The funny thing is that when you start with people and listen instead of with an idea. You end up with way more ideas, all of which are probably way better than the idea you came up with yourself. After interviewing all these people I had like 5 ideas for newsletter creators. Some of them may not work out, but all of them are better than the ideas I came up with in isolation.