Weeks #7-8: How do I validate my SaaS product idea?

If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with a new B2B SaaS venture and table of contents of biweekly posts for the past eight weeks.

tl;dr I’ve made some progress so far but am really stuck trying to validate a SaaS product idea. I know the best validation is paying customers but am scared of reaching out and potentially having to restart the process if it doesn’t pan out; I share insights about the construction industry, how others validated their SaaS products, how to ship an MVP for SaaS, highs and lows these past 2 weeks and more.

The short version? Get 10 paying customers — without building anything. 

You can even do it without even building a website. Possibly even without mockups or wireframes.

The “less” things you have to show (best yet: nothing to show at all except words — sell the “dream”, baby!) while still getting 10+ people to pay you — you’ve validated your SaaS product. Plain and simple.

It’s one of the easiest things to say and the hardest thing to do… I know.

I. My current status so far
II. Sharing insights about the construction industry
III. How five companies validated their SaaS products
IV. On shipping an MVP for SaaS
V. Applications for me
VI. Highs and lows these past 2 weeks
VII. Lessons learned

When ten people say they’ll give you money if you build this thing, that’s the only validation that counts.
- Jason Cohen, WP Engine

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Weeks #5-6: Internal struggles, choosing a viable software idea and finding a technical cofounder

If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with a new B2B SaaS venture and table of contents of biweekly posts for the past six weeks.

tl;dr The past two weeks have been absolutely nuts. I had strong internal struggles of whether or not to continue (and what my next steps were), entertained a couple software ideas before choosing a potentially viable software idea and attended an industry hackathon where I met my technical cofounder. 

It’s been a little surreal how emotionally draining this period was — truly a rollercoaster. One day I was ready to (temporarily) give up, and the next day I made a fateful phone call and got fired up and reinvigorated.

So much of surviving startups is your mental resilience and resolve. You are your most important cheerleader; moreover, the buck stops with you — no matter how many people you ask for advice: you ultimately make the decisions and are responsible for your actions.

If you don’t believe in yourself or your startup, no one else will — and it will clearly show. It will teach you about yourself and your character about how you can handle making important decisions in the midst of uncertainty and risk.

I. Strong internal struggles
II. A fateful phone call
III. Domain expertise and narrowing my scope
IV. Importance of being agile over water fall
V. The AEC Hackathon (March 14-16, 2014)
VI. Finding a technical cofounder
VII. Choosing a potentially viable software idea
VIII. Highs and lows these past 2 weeks
IX. Lessons learned

When a startup launches, there have to be at least some users who really need what they’re making—not just people who could see themselves using it one day, but who want it urgently. Usually this initial group of users is small, for the simple reason that if there were something that large numbers of people urgently needed and that could be built with the amount of effort a startup usually puts into a version one, it would probably already exist.

Which means you have to compromise on one dimension: you can either build something a large number of people want a small amount, or something a small number of people want a large amount.

Choose the latter. Not all ideas of that type are good startup ideas, but nearly all good startup ideas are of that type.

- Paul Graham, How to Get Startup Ideas

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Monthly Review #1: February 2014 – Warming Up

If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with a new B2B SaaS venture and table of contents of biweekly posts for the past four weeks.

tl;dr I ask myself a set of questions to review and reflect on this first month’s work and progress as well as talk about this past month’s goals vs. reality.

For Cusoy last year, I mainly wrote about what I was struggling with — this time around, I want to follow a template of questions to “standardize” these monthly reviews. So, I cherry-picked questions from various monthly review templates I found online and am excited to answer these questions and look back on them later on.

I strongly believe in the power of personal reflection and really looking back and seeing things I did that could be improved — the idea being that each month I will learn from previous mistakes.

I. February 2014 monthly review
II. Overall month’s goals vs. reality

Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.

― Leo Babauta

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Weeks #3-4: The market I’m targeting and idea extraction

If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with a new B2B SaaS venture and table of contents of biweekly posts for the past four weeks.

tl;dr I talk about the market I’m targeting, my idea extraction process, highs and lows these past two weeks and the question of domain expertise.

Things started off a bit slowly this month but are picking up. As I talk to more and more people, I am really getting a feel for the industry and its pain points and key issues I need to resolve in my approach.

I. My market and why I chose it
II. Idea extraction
III. Highs and lows these past 2 weeks
IV. The question of domain expertise
V. Lessons learned

There’s nothing more valuable than an unmet need that is just becoming fixable. If you find something broken that you can fix for a lot of people, you’ve found a gold mine. As with an actual gold mine, you still have to work hard to get the gold out of it. But at least you know where the seam is, and that’s the hard part.

- Paul Graham, Organic Startup Ideas

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Weeks #1-2: My plan of attack, picking a market and the problem with passion

If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with a new B2B SaaS venture.

tl;dr This is my first update of biweekly posts for my B2B SaaS venture challenge. I discuss how I plan to start my own B2B SaaS business, how idea extraction is the hardest part, general criteria to pick a market, the problem with the “follow your passion” platitude everyone says and the highs and lows so far in the first 2 weeks of this challenge.

To be clear, I am not starting completely fresh — this exploration actually started December last year.

In the spirit of transparency, I am following Dane Maxwell of The Foundation and his approach to building a successful B2B SaaS business.

I. General plan of attack
II. Idea extraction is the hardest stage
III. Picking a market
IV. The problem with passion
V. Highs and lows these past 2 weeks
VI. Lessons learned

Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives.

There are two reasons why I dislike the passion mindset (that is, two reasons beyond the fact that. . .it’s based on a false premise). First, when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness. This is especially true for entry-level positions, which, by definition, are not going to be filled with challenging projects and autonomy—these come later. When you enter the working world with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy can become too much to handle.

Second, and more serious, the deep questions driving the passion mindset—’Who am I?’ and ‘What do I truly love?’—are essentially impossible to confirm. ‘Is this who I really am?’ and ‘Do I love this?’ rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses. In other words, the passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused. . .

- Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, on why “pursue your passion” is dangerously destructive and to focus on being a craftsman instead

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A new B2B SaaS venture

Fresh from my lessons learned with Cusoy the past six months, I am now dedicating an entire year to a new B2B SaaS venture that hopefully reaches ramen profitability very soon and will potentially hit six figures of revenue within a year or so.

Start: February 3, 2014
End: February 3, 2015

I. Ambitious goals by December 31, 2014
II. Why B2B SaaS and its advantages
III. My runway
IV. Updates moving forward

“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”

- Jordan Belfort

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Cusoy: A Postmortem

It’s hard to believe that it’s been exactly six months since I first penned my post What can you do in six months? that began this startup journey in the first place (see Six Month Challenge for a table of contents of my past weekly updates).

This is the conclusion of the hardest yet most fulfilling six months of my life, so far.

Today I’m going to write a post-mortem about my startup called Cusoy, a curated restaurant finder for people who are gluten-free (from gluten intolerance, celiac disease or as a healthy lifestyle choice) and/or have food allergies.

I. Why I started Cusoy
II. What I accomplished
III. Why I shut it down (alternatively, what I would’ve needed to continue)

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