How to interview 100 customers in 4 hours and get validation for your startup

I love people who find a clever shortcut somewhere. This is one of those. You should be convinced by now that it’s important to “get out of the building” and validate your startup ideas  before you start with them (if not, you should read more blogs or startup books).

The problem is that setting up interviews is can be extremely slow going: you have to be able to reach people first, get an appointment, and hope they don’t cancel it.

This is where Nick Soman of LikeBright was when he applied to TechStars Seattle and was refused. He was told that he wouldn’t get in because the Techstars team felt that Soman “didn’t understand his customers well enough”. The challenge they put to Soman was: talk to 100 women about the challenges they face in dating, and then come back when you feel you have a handle on that question.

There were two options: one, talk to the women he knew. But, says Soman: you don’t want to pester all of your friends with your unripe business ideas, and also, coordinating with people you know just takes too long. You can’t interview them back to back.

Being an ex-Amazon employee, however, he then thought of Mechanical Turk on Amazon. If you’re not familiar with mTurk, it’s a platform where people perform microtasks that they usually can perform on their computer for very low payments. The most famous use of Mechanical Turk was probably when thousands of mTurkers pored over small fragments of satellite imagery to find missing aviator Steve Fossett in 2007.

So he asked for 100 single American women to answer a few questions about dating sites in exchange for $ 2. As he explains it, mTurk workers are not destitute homeless people looking at pictures and captchas all day, but “usually people that would otherwise do crossword puzzles, but who do mTurk tasks and make a little cash doing that”.

In true Lean Startup fashion, he went as far as testing the price point: “If you get too much interest in the task, cancel it and put it out again at a lower price point.” He also advises to take a few Google Voice numbers, virtual numbers that can be forwarded to your real number. This avoids having to give your number to 100 single women (or wait!).  Being a true gentleman, he explained to the mTurk workers how to use a virtual number too, by the way.

“I think we did it in four hours. Better yet, we understood our customer better. I would definitely recommend it. It was actually hard to get off the phone – it was so interesting (laughs).” 

You can watch the entire video in which he explains the process here:

If you want to read a detailed, step-by-step guide of how to tackle the process, you should head over to Justin Wilcockx’ site, who does a very good job of laying out the steps one by one.

Know any great customer development tips? Do you have a great A/B testing tool or hack? Who is the European authority on customer development? Share with us and help fellow entrepreneurs – better yet: write a guest blog about it.


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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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