A startup founder recently reached out to me and asked a classic question related to Lean product development (including Lean Startup and Lean Media): How do you get feedback for something if you don’t have users or an audience?
My answer: If you just seek feedback (rather than using early adopters as the core of your customer base) you need to do everything you can to get the tool into the hands of target users to validate the idea and determine your next steps.
This is where you lean on friends, friends of friends, classmates, and others. They not only need to try out the product, but also spend a few minutes giving you feedback. Honest feedback is key — if you think a friend or relative is not capable of being brutally honest, be careful with what they tell you!
It’s also important to seek qualitative as well as quantitative feedback. Don’t just rely on survey forms — quick conversations on the phone are useful, too.
Use incentives if that will help. Twenty $5 Starbucks cards can go a long way to giving you real information that can determine next steps for an early stage product.
The startup founder also asked about metrics to bring back to an accelerator or investor. I am skeptical of most traction metrics, as it leads to wasted time generating B.S. metrics (500 anonymous people visited our website, compared to 400 last month!) and bogus notions of progress (two investors asked for a copy of our business plan!).
But I did say this, based on experience earlier in my career: For any app or website you do want to see solid engagement metrics, such as regular use or repeat visitors. Find out what features/elements people are using most, and listen to your test audience when they tell you what’s missing.
As a bootstrapper, the ultimate traction metric is revenue, of course. But for many types of products, particularly digital products like apps, this may not be realistic at an early stage.