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Hi, I'm Bobby Matson.

I'm a NYC-based software engineer and entrepreneur. I love working on new business models and experimenting with funky ideas. Shoot me an email if you'd like to collaborate on one!

Bobby's Blog

Discovering Customers

Last week, I wrote about taking some mandatory timeoff to dive deep on a side project. Since then, I’ve been taking time to discover customers.

There’s no bulletproof way to find a customer. Sure, there’s plenty of “best practices” and whatnot, but no sure way to get there.

For Payoff, I took an approach which I’d love to share here. This might not work for everyone, but should serve as a loose guide if you’re tinkering with a new business model.

Identify a Shitty Situation

In our case, the shitty situation was the inflexibility and anxiety around paying off student loan debt. You’ve probably had some experience in your life where you thought “WOW, this should be so much easier” or “this is so painful for little reason”.

That’s your shitty situation.

Shitty Situation

Write it Down

By this time, you likely have some ideas about what you think people would prefer. Nice. These are your assumptions! Write them down.

These are the current assumptions for Payoff:

  1. People currently paying off student loans are anxious about their debt, want to be “debt free” faster and are willing to modify their spending to do so.
  2. Those with student loans greater than 5% interest have little visibility into how much they could save given a new payoff strategy, and are looking for ways to improve.
  3. People with large amounts of debt would be willing to spend money on advice or a consultant to help them pay off the debt faster.

Find the Others

This is important. You have a pain point, but who else has it? Talk to your friends, family and coworkers. If it’s outside your network, find a subreddit related to the problem.

Sidenote: If you can’t find a channel, it’s likely your shitty situation is too far removed from your domain. “Pet Insurance is so hard” when you don’t own a pet is going to put you at a disadvantage, so I recommend a reset.

A good place to find potential customers is where existing alternatives exist. In my case, people often seek financial advice from family and close friends, so I started there. I had friends already exploring ways to pay off debt faster, so I asked for a bit more of their time.

Talk to these Others

This falls under the “get out of the building” concept coined by Steve Blank. These Others might be your customers. Ask them for a favor and interview them, either in person or via a phone call.

It might feel strange, but don’t be shy. At this point, you have nothing to lose. I found that many people were very receptive to being interviewed, but make sure you respect their time!

Talk to Others

Prove Your Assumptions Are Wrong-o

WTF do I ask them?

future Zuck

Good question, future Zuck. This is where you need to get creative. Come up with a few questions whose answers could refute your assumptions.

Let’s revisit a Payoff assumption:

  1. People currently paying off student loans are anxious about their debt, want to be “debt free” faster and are willing to modify their spending to do so.

In interviews, I would ask a few questions similar to this:

  • When do you expect to be debt free?

Here, I’m learning if they have a plan to be debt free. If they are guessing at a random number, it signals that they might not think about being “debt free” too often and therefore are less likely to have anxiety related to it.

However, direct and specific responses tell me that this is a priority and a goal for them. It might not make them anxious (there’s other questions for that), but it shows they want to be debt free.

Once you have a strong list of questions, start sending emails and setting up meetings!

Catch ‘Em All

Catchem all

Once you’ve got the notes, thoughts and reactions from actual people, collect everything in a central place. This is crucial - it’s so easy to lose track of really important thoughts and ideas that came from these sessions. I use Dropbox, so it was easy to sync everything into one folder.

If you feel like you need more information, either continue interviewing or find other ways to get your answers. Surveys are definitely helpful for more quantitative questions. Sometimes, even starting a forum thread on the topic can harness some interesting discussion.

Whatever you do, don’t use statistics for this (at least not yet). Keep collecting information until you’re satisfied that your assumptions are solid.

Stay Tuned

What happens next? Well, I’ll let you know when I do it next week :)

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