Product Development April 4, 2020

I'm lost. Somebody, please mentor me.

Neu @neu

I am a solo founder and I need help.

My startup doesn't have a customer yet. I don't even know who my target customer is. I have a vague idea but I don't know how to find these people.

My startup is

If anyone could help me move forward by any means, it would be great! I have been doing marketing, design, coding all by myself and I do not know enough of these areas.

How do I move forward?

  1. 19

    I've been in the exact same spot you're in. In fact, I won't lie, I'm still working really hard every day to get out of the mindset I used to be in. That mindset is, "if I build this awesome product, customers are just going to magically flock to it". It took me a long time to accept this, but if you don't already have an audience, an online community around you, to support you, it's almost impossible to just magically launch a popular product.

    Have you ever wondered why some products on ProductHunt almost immediately have 200 upvotes, while others, that are still really great products, only get a couple? That's because the people making those successful products have spent months, and more likely years, building a community of people who trust and support them.

    So how do you do this? Well, I started by jumping into online Slack communities around the topics that I'm interested in. I didn't immediately ask for their likes/follows/shares, instead, I'm working on slowly, and organically, building relationships with the other members of those communities. I'm doing this by offering help, sharing their content, and just being a genuinely nice human being!

    The other step I'm taking is to build my own community. I launched a couple of podcasting tools, but when no one used them, I realized it was because I'm not a trusted member of the worldwide podcasting community. I'm trying to fix this by building my own community for podcasters, where we can all learn from one another and share helpful tips & tricks we've learned while podcasting.

    I learned a lot of these lessons by working with @8bit while taking his Yen class on building community. It reshaped the way I think about building an audience and launching a product. I had an idea of what I needed to do on a fundamental level, but John has taught me the actionable steps that I needed to take to get me there.

    I wish I had a quick fix, not just to help you out, but for myself! People will tell you it takes time and dedication to build a successful business, but what they don't tell you is how much of that time is spent on things completely unrelated to the product.

    Let me know if there's anything I can do to help you further!

    1. 6

      whoa. love this honest and candid response!!

      me too. all of this!!

      1. 3

        @8bit We had a conversation yesterday in your AMA YouTube video which talked about focusing on getting the first customer. As I was thinking about it, I didn't know who my customer was. I think it is because I started with an average product for multiple problems. Honestly, I felt pretty confused. But now I am much clearer. First comes niche, second comes the first paying customer. :)

        1. 1

          lol! this is great! i answered this via an AMA the other day:

    2. 2

      Hey @schoon @8bit

      After I read all responses from here, I sat down and thought about my options.

      I've pivoted to managing recurring client work and projects.

      Here's how it works:

      1. List out all the things that you would typically do for a client or a project

      2. Run different versions of the list according to your projects and clients

      3. Check off the progress as you go and run for multiple clients

      And I'm looking forward to collecting email addresses of interested users first through the landing page and then building as I talk to them.

      I don't want to spend any time building something that nobody finds and uses.

      I just wanted to share. Thanks :)

      1. 2

        start by asking questions. make sure you're talking to the right people. taht way you'll know if what you've built is actually wanted / needed. have you done this?

        1. 1

          Do you mean I should be qualifying the email addresses I receive to see if they could be my potential customer by asking questions related to my product?

          I have just begun this today. I am preparing to go and approach people starting tomorrow.

          If I didn't get what you meant, is there a video or article you've made that I can learn from?

            1. 1

              Just checked it. Thank you for this. Especially liked the part where you said you valued their personal commitment to share their email addresses with you. It makes me feel more responsible towards those who have trusted me. :)

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                yes! exactly!

                1. 1

                  thank you! :)

      2. 2

        I think this is a good start. I love the idea of sharing examples or mockups of your eventual product to start getting feedback.

        The big thing I think you're missing here is how you're going to interact with potential customers to hear what they want you to build. Just building a landing page and hoping people give you their email address isn't going to be enough. You need to find a way to build an audience and get direct feedback as you build your product.

        Based on this comment section alone, I can tell you're good at interacting with people and starting conversations. So maybe your next post should be "Requesting feedback on my new idea" and then explain a very basic version of this idea. Then when people comment and ask questions, interact with them and ask them follow-up questions to pull more details out of them. Make them feel a sense of ownership, like they're building the product along with you. Then when you launch your product, they'll 100% want to try it out and provide more feedback because they're already so invested in it.

        1. 2

          I'm overwhelmed by how creative this idea is. Truly! Thank you for this.

          Your comment made a shift in the way I think about a community. When I first read your previous comment two weeks ago, I thought I would need to spend the next couple of years building a community(which I am too impatient to do considering the goals I've set). But the word community meant having people who would give feedback to our products and help us build it as per their needs.

          This could be done via the contractors I worked with in the past, the people who I have helped and those who came across me during different life scenarios.

          All of a sudden the number of people I could inform jumped from less than 5 to about 15.

          Thanks again! 😄

          Let me know if I can help you in anything.

    3. 2

      This is great stuff, thanks for sharing.

    4. 2


      From your words, I take the following key ideas:

      1. A product doesn't get users just because it's made
      2. Having a community of users can provide us with users who are willing to try out our product

      The actions your words inspire are the following:

      1. It's normal that my product is not popular currently
      2. Either I start building a community or reach out to those who have one

      Did I get it right? Is there anything you would like to add?

      I feel relief as I read your comment. Thank you.

      1. 3

        It's normal that your product isn't an immediate hit. That's what I missed and is absolutely key to remember.

        1. 2

          That's right! It's so important to remember. It doesn't mean that you have a bad product, it just means the internet is a huge place and it's very easy for your product to get lost in the mix.

      2. 2

        I just had another thought on this.

        Something I often remind myself is to reframe it from "success/fail" and instead think of any project as "it's all forward progress so its all good". A lot of people pay a lot of money for an MBA, you're paying less and getting a real-world MBA. Or, if your project doesn't get momentum you've got an answer if a job interview asks for an example of a failure or a mistake. Or, if a potential employer asks for an online portfolio, you've got one.

        Hope you're feeling better this week.

      3. 2

        Yea, I think you've got it! Work on building strong relationships with like minded people, while bringing value to people who match your target customer. Slowly these connections will strengthen, and you'll learn about challenges your customers need solved.

        Doesn't this sound nice? It's also win-win for all the people involved. Which makes it so much easier to sell a product when you aren't strong at sales because you're barely selling. You're really just charging an honest price to people who had input on the end product they wanted you to build for them.

  2. 4

    Like others have mentioned, focus all you're copy on a specific customer type. I can't quite tell if this is for teams or for people with products that need to walk their end-users through how to use the product. In one place you mention "team members" and in another place you say "Help your users understand your tasks". Focus on a single niche that you care about and then expand later if it makes sense.

    1. 2

      So I've thought about the comments from the last two weeks and I ended up choosing a single niche as you had suggested and now the product description looks somewhat like this:

      1. If you are a professional or a contractor, you could create a list of things you would do for your client in the form of to-do lists. You could also create this either in the form of proposals to list out tasks before agreeing to work.

      2. They could see the lists of tasks, your progress and stay in the loop and comment/share their ideas on specific tasks. Or you could keep it private to let you know how much percentage of your work has been completed.

      Does this sound clearer than before?

      I'm sending emails/messages to potential customers(freelancers and agencies) to see if they will be interested in the product. I have decided that I would not rush to build without their interest.

      1. 2

        I think this is a MUCH better angle. Good job focusing down on this. Of course, I can't say for sure whether this is something people want (don't do much freelance myself), but I wouldn't be surprised if this was a pain point. I'd try hard to find one potential customer who really really wants this and talk to them as much as possible to find out what went wrong in previous freelance/client relationships.

        1. 1

          You've mentioned, "I'd try hard to find one potential customer who really really wants this..."

          Do you think I should start with ONE CUSTOMER?

          I am working towards growing my email waiting list and send emails in bulk at the moment. From this approach, despite already having someone on the email waiting list, I am still looking for and emailing new people.

          I think your perspective is also interesting because we will have a validated product sooner.

          I will definitely think about it. And thank you for your comments. :)

          1. 2

            There’s nothing wrong with growing an email list, but keep in mind deep phone convo with a couple people that seem like the right target audience (have expressed the pain point you’re trying to solve) can often be way more enlightening than getting a couple hundred people on a waitlist to check out the product.

            No reason you can’t do both at once. Maybe send a personal email to each person that signs up for your waitlist (like look up what they do if possible) and see if they’d be up to chat / give early feedback.

            Also make sure you’re reaching out to people not on your mailing list as well, such as people online who’ve expressed frustration with misaligned client work expectations.

            1. 2

              Got it! I did some of the talking in a phone today. Thanks a lot! :)

    2. 1

      Hi @gabe

      From your comment, I understand the following:

      1. I should choose 1 customer type in the beginning
      2. All my website copy should convince that customer type into converting
      3. I can think about a broader customer market only after that

      It seems that having the desire of a lot of people using my product made me blind to a fact that I should first make something useful for one customer type. It's a painful awakening. Thank you very much.

      1. 3

        Exactly! I’ve fallen into that trap many times, so don’t be hard on yourself. The upside is it’s only going to get better as you focus your copy more and more and keep taking to your target users. Good luck!

        1. 2

          Thank you again! :) I remember you from the design review post. I checked DivJoy just now. Good luck to you as well.

  3. 2

    I have 15 years product marketing experience and I just started a gig on this.
    Get in touch let me help you. I will start by reveiwing your website homepage for free!

    1. 1

      For now, I have decided to target a different market. Still, I appreciate your willingness to help. :D

      1. 2

        Okay. all the best. Let me know if you need anything.

  4. 2

    I create a. project, but i can not find it....

    In this point of product, just finish what should be done, to make the product complete in loop, this is must

    1. 1

      So you mean all the features of the product must be working. Got it! Also, there was a bug I didn't know existed. It's working now and thank you for letting me know.

      I will make sure my product works perfectly.

  5. 2

    I can help. This is quite literally what I do for a living. Drop me an email, we will set up a 1 hour session over zoom and get this sorted.

    1. 2

      Hey Shiva!

      I just checked your profile and landed in a comment where you said one should never do something for free.

      If it's a consultation, I do not have anything monetary to pay you with. However, what I can do is design something for you whether a poster or a landing page or a product as a compensation for your support.

      If this sounds interesting, do send me an email at [email protected] and we will talk further.

  6. 2

    I get what problem insteps attempts to solve, but your site doesn't adequately convey what it does differently.

    -Posting on pages and groups that users don't see
    -Create a Doc and never look at it again
    Those problems occur with insteps too? Don't they?

    I mean, I'm not trying to be rude, but I don't get it what your solution does that's different. What is the vague idea you have about who your customer is? Could you elaborate on that?

    1. 2

      Hi @DevManDan

      What I understand from your message is:

      1. What my startup attempts to solve is not clear and compelling

      I assume it is because I do not have a single niche I should focus on.

      The people I initially made it for was and are event managers like developer communities making sure the prerequisites of an event were understood and done by their users before attending. In order to help them understand clearly, the goal was divided in the form of to-do lists. The owners of the event would be able to view the reports of what their users did or did not do and adjust according to that.

      So do you mean I should make my website compelling to this customer type?

      1. 5

        If you're targeting developer communities like a community of programmers and not some other type of developer then I would strongly urge you to not target that niche. Why would a programmer or event manager who knows many developers ever want to pay someone for a to-do app? That's quite literally the most commonly implemented software. I can't think of any major pain that your to-do app does for me that would warrant using it over google docs or more specifically a google form. I sincerely believe you should drop this idea you're pursuing or make it drastically different in some key ways...

        Changes I'd recommend:
        -Pick a different niche (I think you already know this is important)
        The niche I can think of where this would be useful is for AirBnB managers who do airBnB full-time. I know of at-least one person who had this problem and solved it himself of making sure his cleaners went through everything in a rental. He made them do lists. He keeps tablets in every rental for them to go through and take pictures and cross-off the list as they get things done.

        -Make it insanely easier to use than google forms or google docs. I'm talking about making the barriers to entry easier than anything else out there. If I have to sign-up for an account and provide info, that would be too much work for this kind of service IMHO. Use login-with services like google, facebook, or etc. You should make the metrics important to what the people want within your niche.

        Personally, I still don't see the value at this point nor do I think getting to the point where it has significant value is going to be easy. I'd recommend you drop this and work on something else. You need to be able to fill in the following statement for yourself at some point.


        So do you mean I should make my website compelling to this customer type?
        At this point, it definitely isn't compelling to a customer. You definitely should. One of the best things about talking with your customers is that you will learn the language that they use and will be able to market to them with that language.

        1. 2

          It's been 13 days since we had a conversation and now I have decided to change the product to something different.

          I've pivoted to managing recurring client work and projects.

          Here's how it works:

          1. List out all the things that you would typically do for a client or a project

          2. Run different versions of the list according to your projects and clients

          3. Check off the progress as you go and run for multiple clients

          And I'm looking forward to collecting email addresses of interested users and then building as I talk to them.

          I realized I needed a place and market to start with. I meditated on your comment. Thank you.

          1. 2

            best of luck

  7. 2

    I suggest you might start really high level, "30,000 foot level" is the business buzz word. Start with if your target customer is business or consumer. Who has the problem you are solving? Is it people at work or businesses or is it people at home?

    As you narrow down who your customer is, who specifically has the problem you can start to focus on specific places. Define your target customer, ideally build "personas" of who they are and what they do. With that defined you can start seeking out your target demographic. If they're on Twitter then jump on Twitter and start engaging in a genuine way, don't sell anything just build relationships and hear about their challenges.

    At the same time you can tailor the site content to speak to the specific target customer and the specific problem(s) they have to convince them you have a solution.

    Finally, do you have any friends or family who will 1.) use your product, and 2.) preferably pay even a small amount for your product, and 3.) hopefully write a testimonial? The fastest, easiest way to get early users is through personal connections.

    I say all of that but Lakebed also doesn't have any customers yet so I can't claim to be an expert.

    1. 2

      Hi @lakebed_io , We meet again!

      What I understand from your message is the following:

      1. Identify who I built the product for
      2. Go to their demographic and start engaging
      3. Directly speak to the persona via my website
      4. Develop compelling copy and compelling product
      5. Approach friends or people I know so that they will use
      6. Make the first sale
      7. Ask them to write a testimonial

      These are certainly helpful insights. I too have the Lean Startup book. I guess I should read it now. Thank you again!

      1. 2


        Another, related thought. Lakebed, in my opinion, solves a very common problem a lot of orgs have; data storage and access. But I'm not marketing to all orgs. I'm focusing my marketing:

        • small to medium retailers - I think they see the value of data analysis & dashboards but there is nothing available to them now. They're low hanging fruit.
        • insurance orgs because that's my background and I have contacts in that area.

        Again, I'm not successful yet, but I believe no matter how broad the audience is it's helpful to narrow down to focus marketing efforts and get a decent ROI on any marketing dollars spent.

        1. 1

          Now I have decided to change the product to something different.

          I've pivoted to managing recurring client work and projects.

          Here's how it works:

          1. List out all the things that you would typically do for a client or a project

          2. Run different versions of the list according to your projects and clients

          3. Check off the progress as you go and run for multiple clients

          And I'm looking forward to collecting email addresses of interested users and then building as I talk to them.

          Thanks for the comment and advice.

          1. 1

            Is there any platform/system out there for contractors/agencies to manage client work and payment? I wonder about expanding on your pivot and providing a way for:

            • Contractor presents to client
            • Contractor creates 1 or more proposals including tasks and prices
            • Client selects proposal and puts a predetermined amount in escrow with the platform to ensure the contractor gets paid for their work.
            • Contractor ticks of items as they are completed.

            So, essentially if you have a standard contract or task list for each client you can just duplicate and send the proposal.

            1. 1

              I am trying to understand your comment.

              Do you mean that I could create a platform where a contractor could list out tasks, prices, etc in one or different proposals to send to a client? Then the client approves one of the proposals, deposits some money upfront and the client could access the link from the contractor to see the progress of his/her work.

              Did I get it right?

              1. 1

                Yes, exactly.

                I'm not aware of anything like that. It helps contractors easily make proposals, it helps clients be in the loop about progress, and it helps contractors get paid more reliably.

                1. 1

                  I have to say I am a bit afraid about the Escrow part because I don't know how to do it. 😅 Other than that, the suggestions sound pretty cool. Thanks for sharing. I will keep you updated. :)

                  1. 2

                    Escrow is pretty easy, it's just a separate bank account for the funds so they are guaranteed not to be spent on your own operating costs. You need decent accounting/records to keep track of "XYZ paid $$$" if a refund to the client or payment to the contractor is needed.

                    I can certainly help in defining the payment holding, escrow service. Insurance companies are legally required to do it since on day #1 of a policy they could be asked for a full refund, on day #2 they could be asked for a full refund minus 1 day, etc.

                    1. 1

                      Sure. I'll ask a couple of people to see if anything like this is necessary and if they say yes, I will certainly talk to you. :)

        2. 1

          Sounds great. I've sent a sample of the design. I can help you with a landing page. :)

    2. 2

      When we hear about the success of Twitter, WhatsApp, Skype, etc all we hear is "we built a thing and got users". What is often skipped is the number of iterations before the first user, the number of pivots, and the number of documents & plans created. If not in the beginning, certainly now, every currently successful product does market research, UX, testing, and customer feedback. Every successful product has a business plan, a marketing plan, and personas.

      Have you read The Lean Startup by Eric Reis? Worth a read if you haven't. Unfortunately I have a paper copy otherwise I'd lend you the digital copy.
      Building on that, Lean B2B is worthwhile (even if you're not B2B IMO), and I'm currently reading SNAP Selling which is really helpful for business sales.