So, you've got a brand new idea for a startup and are looking to validate it to see if anyone is interested in your new thing? Sounds good! This will let you know how the market responds to it and give you valuable information and fuel to keep going and dive into product development.
There are many different ways to validate a startup idea but if time and money are important you should consider outbound outreach.
What about content marketing and communities?
There's a lot of focus on marketing for early startups. Especially how to get a lot of traffic from search engines like Google via SEO and content marketing, community building and email lists. There's good reason for it too, but early on there are many more ways to validate your idea and grow your business. Especially doing things that don't scale.
The one topic that get little attention is the subtle art of outbound sales. Perhaps it's because sales are frowned upon by technical people as something boring. Boring or not, sales works. Walk through a random city any given day and look around at all the offices. Most of these companies are not building communities or even blog to grow their business. They build a product or provide some service and are most probably relying on traditional outbound sales or paid marketing channels to attract customers. Guess what? You can do that too. No community, email list, Twitter followers, Quora posts or large budgets required. Just a little bit of grit.
5 Step guide to validating your idea
Below you'll find a five step guide to validating your startup idea without any budget, social media followers, email lists or communities. I've used it myself to validate multiple ideas and I hope it will help you too.
While this approach works great for and is made with B2B startups in mind you can make small adjustment to make it work for B2C as well.
Before you do anything. Spend a few minutes on thinking and writing down what a successful validation would look like. What kind of response would you need to keep going with this idea?
For example: If you've sent 100 emails. How many should reply with interest?
It's important that you do this before you begin since otherwise you may end up in a dangerous situation where you try to convince yourself about a success or failure after seeing the actual results.
In scientific terms, your idea is your hypothesis and this is how you test it.
Find a few leads
Once you've defined what success looks like you should head out and try to find email addresses for some people/companies in your target market. You don't need a lot of them, around 50-100 leads should be enough. It will take a few hours, but this is also a useful exercise to figure out where and how you can reach your market. This can be done by searching through directories like Yelp, Google or places like LinkedIn, depending on your market.
Try to get an email to an actual person at the company. There are some tools like Hunter.io which makes finding the email addresses for a domain super easy.
How to write outreach email
Outreach email should generally be short and to the point. Think about how you use email yourself. Few people have time for a wall of text. Your message should be very clear, like a billboard next to a highway.
Think about how you want to validate your idea. Are you asking for feedback or do you want to try to sell it and see what the response would be? Remember, focus should be on testing your hypothesis.
A general template for email outreach could look something like this:
My name is Foo McBar and I'm the founder of a company developing a product/service that helps you do X.
[Why you are contacting them]
Are you interested in trying it out?
Don't forget to follow up
This is super important but often ignored. I've closed many deals by getting a reply on the 3rd or even 5th email. Oftentimes, people are just too busy to answer you right away and will instead leave your email to quickly disappear in their growing inbox.
Your follow up sequence could look something like this:
- First email
- First follow up (after 2 days)
- Second follow up (after 4 days)
- Final email (after 7 days)
Your first and second follow up could be shorter variations of your first email. The last email you send should state clearly that there will be no more emails and that they are welcome to contact you any time. This is often referred to as the "Goodbye email" and I've found it quite efficient to get replies on them.
Now it's time to go back to your initial definition of success. What kind of reply rate did you get? Were they interested in your idea? Did you get a demo? And most importantly, did it pass your test for success?
Automate and scale
Email outreach is a very efficient way to reach people and validate ideas but sending follow up emails can be very daunting. We built Wobaka to help us scale our sales, keep our pipeline tidy and save hours on email by automating follow ups.
Other ways to validate your idea
While email outreach is a proven and very efficient way to validate your idea there are several alternatives that you could consider as well.
Create a landing page and launch
Buffer, a social media scheduling company famously went from idea to paying customers in 7 days by just setting up a landing page with pricing and launching it.
Pick up the phone
You may have realized that some people will not be able to answer your emails in one day. If time is super important you should really consider picking up the phone and calling some of your leads. You'll be surprised by how nice people are and how many are willing to give a startup founder a couple of minutes to discuss their idea. It could very well be the most interesting call they get all day. There's also no more valuable way to spend your time early on than talking to actual people who you'll be trying to sell your product to later.
I was inspired to write this post after reading this thread on Indie Hackers. I hope you'll find this guide helpful and if you're interested in more reading on this subject I really recommend giving Paul Grahams Do things that don't scale and Patrick McKenzie's Your first ten customers a read.