Three lessons on building customer empathy and doing early research when starting a new SaaS product
Published 3 min read
This is the story of how I went from zero to validated without knowing it. And the lessons I learned about
- talking with future customers
- the power of building customer empathy
- and how early research continues to pay dividends
Like every other new idea in the digital age, this one started with an idea and immediately buying a domain.
Instead of heading straight into building my new web app idea, for once, I started off a bit differently.
Before I wrote a single line of code, I did the following
- Stood up a basic email capture web page
- Gave it a compelling hero statement
- Added an email capture form pointed at ConvertKit
- Then set forth searching for people talking about this problem
- I kept refining #2 and kept doing more of #4 as I started to write code
Steps 1-3 seem pretty standard to many.
But a surprising number of people go straight to building and give 2 and 4 lip service.
Lesson 1 - Never skip talking with your future customers
Today's SaaS markets are crowded. Very rarely are new markets built. Generally, new markets are just a previous market but with some new tech or approach added.
(We're seeing that right now with AI.)
So how do you stand out in a crowded market?
By out-knowing your competition when it comes to your target customers and their problems.
But you can't out-know your competition if you're not talking to people. And no one will come to you when you don't have a product built yet. So you'll have to go to them.
(And once you build it, no one will likely know you exist, so you'll still have to go to them).
That's precisely what I did. I searched for keywords related to my future customers and their problems anywhere I knew they were talking.
Places like Hacker News, Reddit, Twitter, Slack Communities, Forums, etc.
I'd find questions or topics related to what I hoped to solve, and then I'd share my insights into their problems. I never overtly pitched my idea. I'd just share solutions.
People care more about themselves, so put them first. Often the only way they'd know I was up to something was by looking at my profile. And that's okay.
Lesson 2 - Building empathy enables you to speak to your customers with power
As I talked to customers, I began to see common themes in what they were asking and how they put it. I started cataloging this information and used it in my product design.
But more importantly, at this stage, I kept tweaking the hero statement on my simple landing page.
I went through multiple iterations and then added two important paragraphs below it using this format:
Before [product name]: Two or three short and concise sentences. Which describe your ideal customers' pains. Using the words they use when talking about them.
After [product name]: Two or three sentences describing their future state. Not speaking to how the above problems are solved, but instead on how they wil feel when they're solved.
💥 This format (which I "stole" from the awesome folks at 37 signals) dramatically changed signup conversion.
- It demonstrates empathy
- It demonstrates you understand their problems
- And it connects emotionally
That's a powerful combination.
Lesson 3 - 400+ people would never have converted if I hadn't gone to where they were
So how did 400+ people come to my landing page and sign up for my waitings list?
All through those replies. Every single one of them.
I never posted a single piece of content of my own. No blog posts, no guest writing, nothing but sharing my own answers and ideas to people's questions.
What's incredible about this technique is the long tail of the life of those replies.
90% of those who signed up did so many months after the initial replies. It's surprising how much longer content will continue to drive clicks.
One last piece of the backstory and one final lesson
You may have noticed I said, "without knowing."
Here's the funny ending to this story. For various reasons, I had to put aside this project for a year. So I only realized a year later that content continued to perform well, and hundreds were signing up for the waitlist.
Part of me laments this decision because I can guarantee the list is dead cold.
But! Here's the final lesson.
When you're just starting, it can seem like the things you do are not producing results.
Hang in there!
You may not realize it, but with each post you make and each reply you write, those are small deposits for your future that will pay huge dividends as you keep making them.
If you enjoyed this, then you'll probably enjoy getting content like this in your inbox each Monday morning.