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Founders, go talk to your customers

This is part one in our new miniseries about our research trip.

“Spend half of the money on flight tickets and go validate your hypothesis. Then spend the other half building a prototype.”

Said Thomas, our first angel investor, after wiring the money to Opbeat.

The product guy in me would have spent that (relatively small amount of) money on building, but after two failed startups, that advice hit home.

In 2008, I joined my first startup. It failed miserably. In 2010, I founded my second startup, which also failed. There are a lot of reasons why those startups did not work out, but one thing they had in common was the lack of initial product-market fit research.

We have all read about user studies, product-market fit and customer development, but it can be difficult to get into that mindset when you are sitting in front of your computer and just want to build. Getting out the door might mean getting told your project is not that interesting, right?

Two years ago, Opbeat was founded by Ron (who was also a co-founder in the other two failed startups) and I. At this point, we both knew a lot about what not to do at tech startups. We still had the entrepreneurial drive and the urge to create something that mattered, but this time, we wanted to do it right.

We were not going to allow ourselves to spend another two years in a startup that was not going anywhere. We wanted to make sure we were building something meaningful before committing our lives to yet another startup.

Few days after Thomas’ investment, Ron and I got on the road and did 100+ interviews in US and Europe. We talked to developers, ops people and CTOs in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris, London, New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. Everyone was so incredibly friendly, and enthusiastically took time from their busy schedules to meet with us. (Thank you so much!)

These conversations were really interesting - often also frustrating, and sometimes all over the map, which lead to countless nights of discussions. Eventually, and luckily, patterns started to emerge, and we started to visualize how we could turn these learnings into a very useful product.

Getting out there also helped us have conversations with entrepreneurs like Mike Krieger, Andreas Ehn and Andrew McCollum, who later became our angel investors, but that is a post for another day. So founders, go talk to your customers, today.

About the author
Rasmus Makwarth is co-founder and CEO of Opbeat. Rasmus is passionate about making the life of developers more productive, and consumes substantial amounts of coffee.
You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.