Many entrepreneurs launch startups to solve challenges they’ve faced themselves. And really, it’s a great reason to get a business up and running.
It means you’re addressing a problem you truly care about, making it easier for you to keep up momentum, and keep the spirit of your business alive.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to become interested in something that seems like a good idea, but in reality turns out to be a terrible waste of time for everyone.
So before you get underway, you have to make sure your product will make a real world impact on your target market (i.e. ideal customers). Because let’s face it. Maybe not everyone cares about gloves for hamsters as much as you do.
Follow these research tips to find out if you’re solving a valuable problem, and make sure others think your idea is just as great as you do.
1. Use focus groups
Conducting a focus group is a great way to expand on market research, clarify your “instinct” and discover how customers really perceive your startup. And no, asking your mom and dad over a holiday dinner probably doesn’t count.
Focus groups let you learn important information about what your desired audience thinks about your product, and also how they’d use it. This helps you understand how to target your customer base, and how to improve upon your solution.
To get started:
Gather a group of 20 diverse people that represent your target audience – it’s okay to know some of them, but it’s best to mostly invite people you aren’t close with, like friends of friends.
Give them as little instruction as possible, and see how they engage with your product or service.
Observe them and take written notes, but it’s smart to record the event so as not to miss anything important.
Interview each person at the focus group. you could do this by leading a group discussion, or by speaking to people one by one. Ask them basic questions, such as what they like and dislike about the aesthetics and functionality of your offering, what they think about similar products, and how they engage with them.
Interacting directly with your target audience will help you discover noteworthy information about your product in real time, so you can hit the ground running and apply your new feedback.
2. Send out interviews and surveys
Having your friends post a short, 10 question survey to social media with a platform like Survey Monkey will allow you to reach people beyond your focus group, and gain feedback from a much wider audience.
And while focus groups and surveys let you reach out to potential customers, it’s also a great idea to interview experts and get deeper industry insight. Developing a social media app? Interview psychiatrists who understand how people will use it. A language learning platform? Interview educators. And if for some reason you’ve decided to go ahead with that gloves for hamsters startup, get in touch with a vet.
3. Research competitors and similar ideas
When it comes to market research, competitors are your best friends. Delving deep into how they’ve been successful (and also where they’ve failed) allows you to learn from their mistakes, and gives you the upper hand.
If you’re launching an app, search through the AppStore and Google Play to narrow down your competitors … and there, you can see user comments, ratings, update history, and glimpse into their marketing strategies. Analyze these factors to see what your competitors do differently, and how you can stand out from the crowd.
Even more, you need to spend time researching each competitor online. Find out how they got their funding (because maybe you could try the same route).
Additionally, find out if your competitor’s market share is on the decline, and if so, what they did wrong. Keeping up with these trends helps you to understand what to stay clear of. More, try using Google Trends to make sure you don’t miss any important news in your industry.
4. Get out into your community
Network with people who know about your industry. This could mean setting up a booth at a university to seek out feedback from millennial users, or attending entrepreneurship events in your community to share and receive some new business insights.
But better yet, you could get involved in some online communities, like Product Hunt and Reddit. Check out what Reddit users are saying about different apps on the platform, and see if you can apply the feedback to your own product. Or visit Product Hunt, a popular aggregating site for new products, to see what feedback people are giving about similar solutions (again, consider applying this feedback to your own product).
To get your product featured on the platform yourself, you need to be already active in the community, but reaching out to a moderator and asking them to post your product for you will get you on the front page, if they like the product and agree to post it. Not only will you have dozens of techies offering advice, but you’ll likely see sales and downloads increase, too! In fact, getting featured on Product Hunt is said to create more web traffic than having a TechCrunch article written about you.
Last but not least, persevere. Be as rigorous as possible in your research. This means talking to new people about your product everyday, staying up to date on industry trends, being active in relevant communities, and always keeping an eye on what your competitors are doing.
You can change your app, the functions of your platform, the food you sell, or the colour of those little hamster gloves, but what should always remain the same is your mission.
The business model you use to achieve your goal doesn’t count. What counts is whether you achieve the goal or not. So don’t be disheartened if your startup doesn’t seem to be working out, or the feedback is lukewarm — just stay focused on the finish line.
This article has been edited.
Jake Cohn is a co-founder of Chatscene, a hyper location based social networking app. Chatscene allows users to interact and engage with people who are in the same vicinity as them. It’s a perfect way to initiate conversation, and break the ice. Connect with @chatscn on Twitter.