Issue No. 27

The power of building for one

Design partnerships can launch your SaaS by building for someone who really needs you to solve their pain.

Reading Time: 4 min

The power of building for one

Source: DALLE, told to extract key phrases from this newsletter, create a prompt and using the style illustrative, colorful, futuristic create an image.

This week's main topic is "building for design partners."

What you'll read this week

  • How one company started with a single design partner and grew to 100K MRR
  • What a design partner is, and why they're vital to your startup
  • How to find and land design partners for your startup


This week's insight 👉 This guy went from $0 MMR to $100K MRR by starting with just one design partner

I ran across this Reddit post in r/SaaS last week on how someone grew to $100K MRR in 3.5 years—a win for him and his co-founders.

But what stood out is they started with just one build partner. (I call these design partners).

It only takes one design partner to launch a million-dollar SaaS.

Which brings us to today's main topic.

The power of design partners

Which comes first? The SaaS or the Customer?

It's the classic chicken and the egg problem.

The correct answer is both!

As I've said in the past, a design partner is a customer (who usually isn't paying) that "has the pain you're solving so badly that they'll be your design partner. They'll agree to be interviewed to help shape the future of your SaaS to help themselves. It's a win-win."

You build your SaaS.

While talking to your first customer.

Figuring out precisely what they will pay for.

Thus, you don't waste time building from hypotheses and hunches.

Then, when they're happy, you have your first customer AND your first use case to share.

This is a playbook many very successful startups have used to launch.

Companies like Gong used design partners to reach product market fit. It's also how they continue to grow their software, ensuring they build what customers want.

"Literally every feature we develop is being designed with a set of design partners—companies and users—with whom we jointly develop the feature." — Eilon Reshef, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Gong.

How to run a design partnership

No matter what you call it, design partner, "testing it with a few people before launch," "co-developing," etc. (I've heard dozens of names), the concept is the same.

  1. You find someone who has the problem you are solving for
  2. You reach out to them and make an offer (see below)
  3. You talk and listen to them! Schedule 30-minute calls regularly with them.
  4. You build based on their feedback and your ideas. This can be a mockup in Figma or, even better, a working prototype they can use.
  5. You keep repeating 3 and 4 until they use it regularly and get value out of it.

It's that simple.

You can try to land the sale or not. It's up to you; my preference is an agreement of "use it for free till you get value." You say this up front and ask them as you go along how their value is.

Pro Tip — Record all your conversations and rewatch them. It's impossible to take solid notes while discussing things. You'll find many nuances when you go back and listen.

How to land your first design partner

This is a three-part question.

1. How do you find people with this problem

Hopefully, you're already sourcing ideas by constantly looking and listening for pain.

But if not, go to your network first.

Think through who might have the problem you want to solve. (This is a great time to define your ideal customer profile).

Look them up (LinkedIn is perfect for this) and contact them. Since they're in your network, they're far more likely to discuss it with you.

Don't be afraid of titles, either. They've accepted your connection already—people like being helpful.

Pro Tip - Use them to help find others who match your ICP to make warm connections.

What if you don't have anyone in your connections who matches your ICP?

Okay, assuming you don't have even a close match. Then, resort to cold direct messages. You'll have to send out many more messages, but if this is a problem worth solving, you'll find people who care and will take you up on the offer.

2. And how do you make and land the ask?

Asking is easy.

Most people don't ask because they're afraid of getting a no.

If that's you, think about this for a moment. How bad is a no? It's not. It's useful! It can tell you one of three things:

  1. You're asking the wrong people
  2. You're not being clear on the problem you're solving
  3. It's not a good idea.

#1 and #2 are awesome things to get feedback on. Because they're marketing advice, it's best to figure out marketing early rather than wait till later.

And what about #3? Assuming you're adjusting for #1 and #2 as you go.

  • If after you've sent out a hundred messages to your well-targeted and honed ICP
  • And you've refined your statement on what you're solving

Then you just saved a lot of time building something no one wants. That's awesome.

Here's how simple the ask is:

Hi X, do you [[ pain statement ]]. I'm working on a solution for this. Can you spare 10 minutes to tell me about how this impacts you?

The goal is to make the initial commitment as easy as possible. Then, when you get them for 10 minutes, spend that 10 minutes with them listening like your business depends on it (it does).

Then, thank them for their time and ask if you can follow up if you have further questions.

If they say yes, they'll likely be open to something more, then you pitch a design partnership. If not, then you've got some good intel and follow up with them when you launch.

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