Sharmadean Reid – Founder of WAH Nails and Future Girl Corp
Anisah Osman Britton – Founder of 23 Code Street – Coding school for women.
Phoebe Lovatt – Freelance journalist and Founder of WW Club
Cathy Cao – Co-founder of Gather – An app that curates a personal news feed for each user.
What did you do to test the business model? How did you know people wanted it? What tools helped you?
(Ideal for: Anyone with a limited budget, wants to utilise existing skills and is chasing the bigger picture)
Sharma: I started WAH, not as a big idea but as a fanzine and handed it out outside nightclubs. Then started a blog and on the basis of that I felt comfortable enough to open a nail salon because I had built up a following.
If I hadn’t opened the first Dalston salon with no money, which was rough around the edges, I would not have been able to convince Topshop that we could handle running a nail salon in their largest store. Without WAH Dalston, I would not have been able to take pictures of all the hot girls that came into the shop everyday and said “Look there’s 20 girls a day coming into my shop. I can bring 100 girls to your shop and you can take a cut of that”.
So my proof of concept was self-funding a fanzine, then a blog then the very small salon we had 10 years ago. Think about what you can do for cheap/free by working hard and working late in your spare time.
ASK TOTAL STRANGERS WHAT THEY THINK
(Ideal for: Anyone that wants to build their confidence, get genuine feedback and practice pitching)
Cathy: We tried a lot of different methods to test the business but the most important thing is to step outside of your comfort zone. If you ask your Mum what she thinks of your idea, she will probably turn around and say “It’s great! I’ll use it! I’ll pay for it”. But your Mum is going to say it’s amazing even if it’s crap. Same with your best friends and anyone else that loves you.
The most important thing is to ask people who don’t know you. We sat at coffee shops and asked strangers what they think of the idea. They have no connection to you, so essentially you know you’re going to get the truth.
Sharma: Before the internet, people would carry out research this way. So if you can’t do that at this stage, how will you be able to ask an investor for money? Use this as a way to get comfortable speaking to people about your idea.
Try to avoid asking family for idea validation. Your family will judge you as a person, rather than judging the business.
Sharma: Whilst the business is being built up, it’s important to have a landing page that has a call to action. Such as:
- Subscription box
- Mini questionnaire
Measure whether people are actually carrying out the action and if there is an interest in the idea.
TOP TIP: Use Type Form, Insta page, Tumblr or Squarespace to build quick and easy landing pages.
Anisah: Before I started 23codestreet, I wanted to know whether there was an audience for the product. So I put up a landing page that asked the question: “Is there a need for a womens coding course in the UK?”.
We put up a date, location and price for the perspective course and told ourselves that if we achieved 50 people signing up then we’ll run the course. We had over 100 people sign up and ran the course 2 months later. The holding page gave us the security of knowing that there was an audience.
(Ideal for: Social-savvy individuals, a desire to build a community or already have a big following)
Anisah: I read about a 17-year old girl that had roughly 800 followers on her personal Instagram. She changed her handle to her business name and directed everyone to visit her website, which was only a holding page with a questionnaire on it. Through this method, she managed to generate loads of feedback on the product before it had even been created.
Our social channels are a bit of a bubble of the people we already know but Instagram is a very interesting way of reaching outside of your audience. And a really good way to validate your idea.
Phoebe: Instagram is my only marketing tool and I don’t even use it that much. It blows my mind! The people in my online community are very invested, probably above average, in the concept so I create content and services that are just for them as part of a membership package.
I had this incredibly ambitious plan of building my own social network for my members but my first 2 developers messed it up. So when I took it to someone else to develop, he was very open with me in stating that managing this network would be too much for 1 person to handle. I had to change my idea, so don’t be disappointed if you have to scale down in order to get started on an idea.
But my point is and this is what blew me away, when I announced the subscription service on Instagram (2 posts in total), I actually had to stop people from signing up because I received such a high volume of requests. Social media is a powerful validation tool.
(Ideal for: People that know how to code, aren’t necessarily connected but want to reach a large audience)
Cathy: Before my business partner and I decided to launch the Gather app, we were trying to create a social product focused on storytelling. We figured that our audience will come from Instagram. So we looked at all people that we wanted to contact and saw that their email addresses were in their bio’s and begun extracting them manually. That was, until we realised that we could built a ‘scraper’ that could extract ten’s of thousand s of email addresses everyday.
A ‘scraper’ can be programmed to grab certain types of information from the internet. In this case, we wanted our scraper to pull email address from Instagram – which isn’t illegal because the person would have had to make their email address visible for everyone to see. Through that, we built up a database of over 100’000 people.
We used a tool called realm merge, which is essentially a google sheet extension and basically just cold-emailed them. The open rate was 70%, the click-through rate was 30% and the ultimate download rate for our beta was 10% out of 100’000 people.
TOP TIP: When sending mass emails, use the recipients name in the subject line and a compliment about them. People love knowing when others appreciate their work.
Anisah: I started a company called ‘Pocket Muni’, which was not a cool name because nobody knew how to pronounce it (Muni = Money). We decided to go out during Freshers Week with buckets and directly approached students. Our pitch was “You can earn money doing odd jobs, all we need is your email address and £10” and we made £2000 in one night.
That was a major validation for us and proof that you don’t always need technology, you can just be yourself. Don’t try to be overly formal, don’t adopt a style that isn’t you. But also remember that the validation is just the first bit, what you do next matters even more. We had all those emails and needed a way to utilise them so we started a newsletter. David Hieatt has a great article about newsletters and why they are so vital – here
Anisah: If you have a big idea and you want to test out whether people will like your work or examples of your product. You can use Tweepi to find twitter users who may be interested in your company by searching interests, tweets, full name, company name, location etc.
For example, if I wanted to start a nail art company. Tweepi can assist in gaining the audience that already follows a very popular nail art company.
Disclaimer: Make sure you already have content on your twitter so that the audience have something to interact with when they land on your page. Also, there is a follow limit, don’t go over it or your page will be blocked by Twitter.
EMAIL TIP: Use emailhunter.io to look up email addresses for companies by just putting in the company name.
How do you validate your idea to yourself? How do you determine whether you want to start a business or just work on the idea as a side project?
Sharma: This year we decided to take WAH to Clothes Show Live and it wasn’t the best idea. The audience was wrong, we didn’t invest enough money into it and my team were so worn out afterwards. There were so many negatives attached to it, we decided that we never want to do a tradeshow again. So that was a piece of validation based on channels that work for WAH and others that don’t!
Phoebe: I’ve deliberately kept the membership very small because I always want to test my ideas first. Especially if it may require a long-term commitment. I’m still figuring out whether I actually want to go full-time with The WW Club, so I’m still getting to know what I personally feel the most comfortable with.
Cathy: For me, it’s was all about what you do when things get difficult. For us, our toughest question based on the Gather app was “What makes this any different to Instagram?”. And If I’m honest, our product was a little similar to Instagram but we had a completely different angle and purpose. And in those moments of having to prove that you’re good enough, you have to have an inner purpose as to why you’re going through with the idea, why you’re spending so much time and money working on it.
Sharma: For me, personal validation is about having a higher purpose and holding onto that.
TOP TIP: When personally contacting a top tier industry professional, research their interests to ensure that your big idea is relevant for them.
Which one of these methods will you be testing for your business?
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