Method One: Audience Building
Audience Building simply means creating or contributing to a community by becoming a subject matter expert in your chosen field. Once you can establish rapport with people, every member becomes a potential customer you can use for research, testing, or even sales. By starting discussions regularly (about, say, problems that they face as your customers), you connect people around your value proposition. The result? You can start creating demand for your product or service before it becomes a reality.
There are many platforms you can use, and it’s easy to get started. You can take one piece of content and modify it so that it becomes relevant for Twitter, Facebook, or Medium users. Write the document once, and make small changes in its format to appeal to each audience segment you’d like to reach.
Alternatively, you can join an existing community or group and contribute to a discussion, then ‘cross-platform-pollinate’ by posting it elsewhere so that you’re reaching more people with that same message.
Method Two: Concierge
In this method of validating your business model, you roll up your sleeves and deliver your Value Proposition manually to your customers. If your idea is a content aggregator, you pick a few customers, find the content they like, and deliver it with existing tools (like email). If you’re providing a food delivery service, you deliver the wings and beer yourself a few times. If you’re automating inventory procedures, you work in a warehouse and manage spreadsheets for awhile.
It’s OK if your solution is clunky - what matters is that you deliver your Value Proposition and you learn the basics of your customers’ problems before you automate. By being a part of the solution personally, you’ll be able to experience your customers’ problems first hand and you’ll get to see what pain points matter the most for them. Plus, you’re not spending a lot of time and money on building an automated solution you don’t know will work yet. But you are serving customers.
Method Three: The Wizard of Oz
This is very similar to the concierge method. In fact, it’s nearly identical, except with one difference: you’re still delivering your Value Proposition manually, but it looks like it’s automated. This method adds a little magic to your solution, as the name implies. The work is still being done in the background, but behind a curtain so that the customer doesn’t see what’s going on. In this case, the automation is part of the Value Proposition, and the onus is on you to work out the magic later.
For example, a customer can sign up for your content aggregator with an email or a button click while you are managing the content and scheduling with a spreadsheet. Your food delivery app is a button on Facebook for customers, but in reality is something that you’re checking every minute to see if there’s an order, and you’re getting in your vehicle and doing the driving. That ‘automated’ inventory solution is really just you counting things while everyone’s sleeping.
So for the Concierge and the Wizard methods, when is enough enough? If you can’t keep up with interest or are becoming overwhelmed with orders & inquiries, you know it’s time to don your problem solving hat and think of a way to accommodate everyone at once. This is where automation begins to become an option.
Each method we’ve discussed yields a different result: Audience Building helps you to avoid overhead costs and builds demand before you go live. The Concierge method reveals the bare necessities you need to take care of, and the Wizard of Oz helps you understand how far customers are willing to go to fix their problems (2 clicks vs 4 clicks, for example).
So: after validating initial customer interest, you can still be Lean by doing things manually first to fully understand your customer’s problem and your solution. Once you do this for awhile, patterns will reveal themselves, and you automate the recurring problem-solution set. And that’s when you start building that dope back end.