Ana Bibikova’s Guide to Building MVP through listening to the customers’ voice

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As a mentor in various accelerator programs the most important thing about MVP, I try to convey to founders is the following: Through building your MVP you are acuiring the answer to some question. Most founders think that the right question to ask is — If this tech stack is a good fit for my product? ❌ It is a wrong question. The right one is:
— If the product or service I’m planning to provide has enough demand? ✅
Now, the question is — how to tackle this task? How to build an MVP that has more changes to take off? How to make it a little bit less risky? You can play a guessing game by shipping multiple products and joining challenges like #100 in 100 days, #30 in 30, etc. Or you can do customer interviews.
I ran my personal research on social media and among founders I’ve mentored and found out that among early-stage founders with no or small experience >90% of decisions about features they will be including in their products are pure results of trials and errors. They ship, they see if features resonate, if not they ditch them. If yes — they go further. Among founders who have revenue already (meaning, who proved to be successful on at least some level), only 70% use trial and error methods. A huge part of these founders also do customer research in one form or another.
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I’m not saying you can’t succeed with trials and errors method: there are brilliant examples of Pieter Levels, the founder of Nomad List, who reportedly built >70 products throughout his career. Only 3 has been profitable so far. There’s Damon Chen, a founder of Testimonial.to who built 3 products that brouught $0 before Testimonial.to that brought $10K in the first 10 days. What I’m saying is that by interviewing people you improve your bets, that’s all.

How to use insights from people and audiences for MVP building

There are 2 frameworks that I use with products as a product marketer: the 1) Outside-In approach. And the 2) Inside-Out approach.

Inside— Out approach

  1. Start from your intention to work with a specific niche or market segment. Even if you are building a service that “can be used by everyone” (and some of the services indeed belong to this category, like Google Sheets, or Airtable, or Typeform, or Notion) you will still need to start with only 1 segment. Ideally, it should be a segment that consists of great early adopters (less concervative groups who love testing new stuff) and at the same time, those who can afford your product. For this very reason 90% of products launched daily on Product Hunt — an American platform where every startup can launch a product and get first users — are aimed at the startup community, developers and designers. Startups that raised rounds recently present a great go-to-market niche.
  1. Customer interviews. Find a job-to-be-done (JTBD). A task your ideal customer faces. Ideally, it should be something that they face pretty often (if they have a problem once a year, how likely is it for them to pay a monthly subscription fee). Perfect if the existing way of doing things frustrates them and they want to change the status quo. Listen to the words people use while describing their pain point. Bookmark everything.
  1. Try to think of a way to solve the issues people you’ve been talking to are facing. For example, people hate to write cold emails. Why? — you ask them. Because the open rate is so low and the response is even lower. So much resources are wasted! Based on this insight you can: — build a course on cold emailing and sell it on Udemy — build a service that would suggest AI-generated opening lines and subject lines for cold emails. It might increase the open rate and it will definitely decrease the time wasted.
Both solutions are valid. For example, you decide to go with a second option.
  1. Build a “storefront” — a landing page using exactly the same words you’ve been hearing from people. Start advertising on social media and using Google ads. In about 2 months you will have a very solid set of data: a specific audience who are interested in this service and signed up to be notified, maybe some pre-sales. If you got about 30K visits on the website and have over 500 potential customers who signed up it makes sense to start building a product using code or no-code tools. If your conversion rate is even lower — ditch the idea and try the course. Or try something else.
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Outside-In approach

This approach is very similar but with one difference — you start with creating a distribution channel. It can be your website — if you’re a fan of blogging you can start posting articles on a specific topic and slowly and steadily grow your subscribers base. A faster way is to use social media. Creating a solid presence on LinkedIn, YOUTUBE or Twitter is usually faster than growing a website using SEO (it’s much less technical and the competition is still lower). As soon as you gain a certain following base (1–2K) you can start researching people in your circle with the goal to identify their pain points. Then basically follow the steps from the Framework 1: identify JTBD, build a storefront and test it. The difference is that you will test it with your existing audience and won’t have to pay for Google Ads. You can also use a so-called “build in public” framework to get more attention and to tap into the community wisdom. The upside of this approach is that you can definitely offer pre-orders and pre-sales as you will be addressing not some random people but an audience that already trusts you and where you have established an authority.
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Further reading:

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Meet the team 👋

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Ana Bibikova - @NotechAna
Ana is an Author, Marketing Strategist and a Mentor in the Founder Institute. Ana has 18y of experience in building businesses, growing them to $4M annual revenue.
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Anthony Castrio - @AnthonyCastrio
Anthony is a Software Engineer, Fractional CTO, and the founder of Indie Worldwide, a virtual incubator and social club for bootstrapped founders.