In this post, I’ll show you a Lean way to test a product and get paying customers over a weekend. Read more...
This approach is tailored to the attitudes and behaviours of visionary customers, not the typical customers who “need to see it live” before they sign up. These are the customers who are truly excited about what you’re building, and they’re willing to sacrifice a full feature set for that one magic button that solves a problem they care about.
I challenge every one of the Dooo.sh/it participants to run an experiment: Get at least fifty paying customers before you write your first line of code or put up your first splash page. A lot of people think this is impossible and never come back. But it’s not, and it’s a great way to separate the entrepreneurs who believe in Lean from those who don’t.
You can also read about some other lessons I learned while putting this tactic into action.
I said before that this activity is an experiment, and therefore we must have concrete criteria for success. I usually recommend seeking 80% validation from a sample size of 40 customers.
Approach a Customer
Rule number one is the customers must not be friends or family. These people are great, but give you skewed data because they want to see you succeed. Real customers only care about your product, and that’s the only thing that matters.
Problem Interview participants, referrals, cold-calls, and drop-ins are ideal candidates for this experiment, and it really highlights the need to track who you’ve talked to before so you can contact them when ready.
Prepare the Shock
I always recommend that you start with the bad news - that you’re going to be asking for money. Remove the anxiety the customer feels by getting it out in the open and moving right along. I like to say something along these lines:
“We’re a serious company building a serious product - but we need serious customers to make this whole thing work. So at the end of this interview, and i’m going to ask you for twenty dollars. It’s the only way I know for you to prove I’m doing the right thing. Now let’s get started.”
Demonstrate the MVP
I like to start by describing the problem, walking the customer through a set of wireframes, giving them a data sheet about the deal, and most importantly - telling a compelling story the whole time. Stories build trust and empathy, and they help you demonstrate a deep understanding of the problem at hand.
When the demonstration is over, it’s time to start thinking about the Close. Remember the twenty bucks you mentioned before the demo? Yup, it’s coming back.
Typically I’ll say something like, “I’m going to be honest with you - 20 dollars might not seem like a lot to you, but it’s a big deal for me. And if I’m going to ask you to go out on a limb for this product, the least I can do is make you two promises in return.”
Promise 1: The Date
Even without a piece of software, I’m not afraid to say “I’ll deliver you a piece of working, beautiful software by [Insert launch date here]. And if it isn’t done, I’ll send your money back with an explanation of why.”
I also like to use humour to my advantage and offer up my parents’ home address, my cell phone number, and the name of my bank manager to establish that I’m a local guy and I’m not going anywhere.
Promise 2: The Discount
Then to make the deal sweeter, I say something like, “Because you’re a visionary customer, because you obviously get what I’m trying to do here, I’ll give you $200 of credit to use with my product when it launches.” Notice the subtle compliments we’re giving the customer at this point. These visionary customers have an opportunity to “join the cause,” so to speak. And having a targeted position will always present a more compelling pitch.
Close the Deal
And finally, I’ll say, “I’d love to do business with you today,” maintain eye contact, and let the air hang dry. I try to avoid asking questions like, “Can I sign you up?” or “Would you like to go ahead with this?” and prefer using affirmative statements. As you sign up more visionary customers, the goal is to gradually reduce this discount until it is equal to a one-month free trial.
If you’re lucky enough to sell, there are three critical follow ups that need to happen. First, ask for a referral. This will most likely be your next paying customer. Then, I always recommend that you get a picture, with your customer, holding the twenty dollar bill. You have no idea how much this will motivate your technical co-founder. After that, give them the data sheet outlining the deal with the two promises, and record the customer’s info in your CRM tool.
If you don’t hit your goal of 80% validation for your sample group, you have the following options:
- Keep your solution the same, and pivot the type of customer you’re talking to.
- Keep your market the same, and pivot your feature set.
- Pick a new problem and start again.
Here are some topics that haven’t been talked about in this post:
- Lean solution validation for free products (article coming soon)
- Lean soluton validation for enterprise sales