I am in the idea phase; I would like to validate that a market exists before searching for tech talent required to build out the product. I would describe the target market as individual users, but the paying customers are businesses (that pay for sponsored ads and subscription services). Not as high of networking effects nor as broad of an audience, but think Facebook model in which they must attract enough users, but customers driving sales are businesses. So when asking, "If you build it, will they come?" I believe I must identify "they" as both individual users and businesses.
That said, I would like to first validate that the target market I expect to use this application exists, as the research data will strongly influence whether this product should be carried out and whether businesses will be interested enough to buy in. So my question concerning user market validation is 1) What specifically are the best avenues to reach many people (email, online survey ad, cold calling, etc.) for eligible participants (qualifications will include gender, age, income, etc.)? and 2) What is the approximate cost associated with each suggestion?
Second part to my question concerns the businesses (i.e., our paying customers). How do I find the right business decision makers (directors, project managers, and execs) and subject matter experts (likely marketing expertise) to discuss the idea and seek advice while I am still in the market validation stage?
Hi Stephanie -- Definitely start with market validation. Do not start with the product. To beat this horse, if you've spent anymore than a weekend building someone before doing preliminary market validation, you've started on the wrong foot.
So, to your questions:
1) Ways to talk to target customers:
Be creative but get out and have a conversation to your target customer. Very likely everything you'll do won't scale and you'll be exhausted and horse by the end of your first week, because you've been making cold calls, or going door to door to local businesses.
There is also a temptation to use online services that for $50 can get you 100 impressions on an idea. This sort of works, but it's so surface that it's likely things you already know about your idea. Where these are valuable is more in your value proposition when you want quantifiable feedback. The real gem of market validation, come from conversations.
So, find a way to have as many ~10min conversations with customers as possible. You'll start hearing the same things over again that that's when you'll have confidence in a direction to take your first step on product.
BTW - The best way I found to have quick conversations was to ride public transit and approach strangers in my target demographic. When I approached people at coffee houses, I'd get stuck in a longer conversation only somewhat on topic for what I left the house to do. Sitting next to someone on the subway, who was getting off a few stops down, was a far better way to have a timeboxed conversation.
2) How do I find mentors?
Go to startup events (this is my bias from my experience and from my business meetaway.com -- online events for startups ). The point is, you don't need to find the super expert of all things startup; early on there is so much low hanging fruit of what you need to learn, and much of this is common to across startups, that you can mostly learn these things from your peers. What I've found is that because I did this early on, I now have a network of folks who I can put the word of to, "hey I'm looking for someone who has done X" and we leverage one another's networks to find that person.
For anything super niche, consider checking out Clarity. Or hunt for folks on Linkedin and use your network to get a warm intro if possible. Theses folks get hit up a lot for advice.
Best of luck.
Whitney had some great ideas, so I'll just target one aspect of your journey.
First you need to validate the PROBLEM you are trying to solve. At the stage you are you should not be validating a SOLUTION. So your conversation should be qualitative in nature, seeking to understand if some has the problem, do they recognize it as a problem, are they currently investing anything (time, money...) in trying to solve the problem, and how are they currently trying to solve their problem.
As you come to understand these questions you will discover whether you actually have an idea that may address the problem, who is the persona(s) who you might target, and how much is it worth to them.
Get to this point as soon as possible, spending as little money as you can. Whitney had some great ideas on how to do this. I heard this from Steve Blank: Fall in love with the problem, not your solution.