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tl;dr My startup idea is Cusoy, a restaurant meal planner based on dietary needs and restrictions. This week I validated a market problem/need, sourced 10+ beta testers, talked to users and solicited feedback from Meetup groups and Reddit, researched and began to focus on product/market fit, found my rhythm and struggled with focus. Next week will be focused on building the MVP, product differentiation and monetization.

Wow, I can’t believe this first week has passed by already! My main overall goal this week was to validate the problem and solution, even if I am not 100% sure of product/market fit just yet (nothing has been built yet). I wanted to be assured others would use my app, that it solves a pain point, that I wasn’t just living in my head and would be the only user who would use my product.

I. Cusoy
II. Finding and talking to users
III. Product/market fit
IV. Finding your rhythm and struggling with focus
V. Next week

The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.

The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing.

– Paul Graham, How to Get Startup Ideas


I. CUSOY

Background and context

Cusoy (pronounced kew-soy). What’s in a name, you ask? “Cu” is short for customize, and “soy” is Spanish for “I am” — basically, an app that’s customized for you. It’s also a two-syllable, short and punchy name.

Frankly speaking, I have been harboring this startup idea for the past year and a half and even attempted an AdWords campaign a month or two ago that somewhat failed – more on that in another upcoming blog post, I promise.

The premise of Cusoy is a restaurant meal planner for people who are vegetarian/vegan, gluten free and Paleo and/or have food allergies of dairy, soy, wheat, nuts, etc. There are many other diets and dietary options out there that exist and have thriving numbers of constituents, but I want to focus on these groups first. I am Paleo myself and often struggled internally of cheating on my subscribed lifestyle choice because I didn’t want to make eating out with my friends and family a hassle for them. I didn’t want to be that person who is on a “weird diet” and who causes everyone else not to be able to eat at a restaurant simply because they didn’t have any Paleo friendly dishes, and especially since Paleo is not the same as having peanut allergies.

Paleo is actually not as difficult to adhere to as something like gluten free (especially if you’re gluten intolerant or have celiac disease) or vegetarian, or even actual, legitimate food allergies — it’s actually fairly flexible and versatile — but it was a big enough pain point for me to wish someone made eating out with friends and family on Paleo less miserable. And, as you can imagine, it’s an even bigger pain point for those who can’t just turn “on” or “off” their dietary restrictions.

And so that’s where the idea of Cusoy came from.

Sample user flow

Here is a sample user flow to give you a better idea of how Cusoy would work:

  1. You are Paleo and have dairy/soy restrictions. You want to go out to eat tonight with some friends in San Francisco, and more specifically, want to try out a new Indian restaurant. But before you go to the restaurant, you must first find out if they serve food that meet your dietary needs.
  2. You enter in the app your location (San Francisco), your desired type of cuisine (Indian food) and your dietary restrictions (Paleo and dairy/soy restrictions).
  3. The app crunches your criteria and brings up a list of Indian restaurants in San Francisco that serve menu items that are Paleo and adhere to dairy/soy restrictions.
  4. You scroll through the list of restaurants and tap on the one you want to browse.
  5. The app then shows you the exact menu items in that Indian restaurant that are Paleo and dairy/soy free.
  6. Now you know the restaurant can serve your dietary needs and what exactly to order before you even get there.

Note: this is a barebones MVP user flow. It does not by all means include all the features and functionalities in my bigger vision for it.

I’ve only built a Launchrock page for Cusoy, which you can find here. Sign up for beta updates if you like!

II. FINDING AND TALKING TO USERS

Next step was finding users — people who are vegetarian/vegan, gluten free, Paleo and food allergies — and talking to them. What are their major pain points in eating out with friends and family? What are their typical habits or approach of eating out with dietary needs and restrictions? Would they use an app like the one I outlined above? If so, what would they add or take away – any wish list items? Anything else I’m missing or things they thought I should do or keep in mind? Would they be interested in participating in a private beta later this fall?

I had originally planned restaurants in Palo Alto as a proof of concept and had idly thought of simply walking up and down University Ave and asking passerby or sitting in a Starbucks and offering to buy people coffee in exchange for their time. Of course, this isn’t very effective or efficient.

I turned to Meetup groups and Reddit to find my users and talk to them.

Meetup groups

It’s not very difficult to dramatically narrow user demographics through Meetup interest groups; honestly, it proved a great starting point for getting users. I created a spreadsheet and determined there were roughly ~13,000 in my targeted demographic before starting to reach out to them. First, I joined all the Meetup groups with users and interests that would be interested in my startup idea and invested in its success. Second, I messaged 36 users (12 per day, as is the Meetup policy limit) and received 5 responses, or a 14% response rate, which isn’t exceptional but isn’t too bad either. I’ve stopped messaging users because I had begun getting similar, repeated feedback.

Overall feedback: Yes, this is a major pain point. Yes, users would absolutely love it if this app existed. Yes, they would love to participate in a private beta. Yes, they had thoughts on what I should add and personal gripes when dining out. Yes, there are some problems I should watch out for and some things they thought my startup could not address. And so forth.

All of these interactions were online. What about meeting users in person? I thought of joining in dinners and meet up events — but, only a small number of the Meetup groups were actually active, and it is much more expensive (time, money, energy wise) to reach out in person this way: 1) they may not be interested in my app idea and not appreciate being “pitched” to at a low-key dinner, 2) dinner get-together events ranged from East Bay, SF, Peninsula and South Bay (a knock to my gas and wallet), 3) I basically had nothing to show them other than asking questions and 4) I myself didn’t know if those places were Paleo, to fit my diet. So I then simply focused on just messaging members who were most recently active on Meetup groups (last visited a Meetup group in the past 2 weeks vs. in the past year).

Once I build a MVP, I plan to reach out to more users and even arrange for in-person meet ups to observe their user interactions and behavior when engaging with the app.

Reddit

Cold-messaging 12 users/day on Meetup is not very scalable, so I turned to Reddit as a way to crowdsource some initial feedback on my idea. From Reddit, I was able to get 28+ responses that were incredibly helpful — and which also resulted in 10+ beta testers in the Bay Area and even a potential cofounder! Some were disappointed that I was targeting the Bay Area first, as they were in other cities around the country and even around the world.

Again, your targeted audience is key. Knowing who your users are (especially getting a group of beta testers and early adopters!) and going to them and soliciting feedback should be one of your first steps in validating a market need.

III. PRODUCT/MARKET FIT

Finding product/market fit is the #1 most important thing and my #1 focus right now. This may take anywhere from a month to six months to perhaps a couple years — depending on your situation and circumstances, of course.

Product/market fit has a variety of definitions, from making things people want and a group of people/market that reacts positively to your product to other measurable metrics like user retention, user growth and traction numbers.

I think this week has successfully accomplished my goal of finding a product/launch fit, but since I haven’t built anything yet, achieving product/market fit is yet to be said.

Here are some great additional reading resources on product/market fit:

I’ve also been reading Lean Startup and may write up a post just on notes I’ve taken.

IV. FINDING YOUR RHYTHM AND STRUGGLING WITH FOCUS

Finding your rhythm

Per Marissa Mayer’s strategy of dealing with burnout, burnout is about resentment and states that you need to find your rhythm. My rhythm is working out. No, I’m not burned out — but I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions this week already, and want to preemptively find ways to combat that.

Personally, I’ve found that exercise – not alcohol or anything else – is the most effective way of dealing with stress. I take core classes and work out on my own as well – so about 1-2 hours everyday 5-6x/week. I lift weights and do high-intensity interval training (sprints) on alternate days. It’s the one surefire way for me to stave off stress and keep energized and my body healthy and strong. It’s the one thing I absolutely do not compromise on, in order to help me be happy and productive.

An experimental hack I did last summer in Austin was signing up for all the free 7-day gym passes and stacked them on top of each other, so that I didn’t have to pay a cent to work out in my 10-weeks in Austin. That is my strategy now as well. Highly recommend it 😉

Here’s another great piece on avoiding burnout from Andrew Dumont and the unscientific causes and cure to burnout from Jason Evanish.

Struggling with focus

My biggest problem this week (and probably a continual problem) is focus. I’m incessantly checking email, Twitter, Hacker News, Reddit, New York Times, etc. and before I know it, it’s already noon and half the day is over. In fact, I’ve written up a schedule of 10 things to get done each day of this week. None of which happened. Yeah, you saw that coming, didn’t you?

My new strategy for planning out each day is to have 2-3 big, major goals that will keep your idea moving to get done. Not reading more articles. Not cleaning your room. Not even working out. Actual things that will make a difference and move your startup forward.

Even if you think you can get more done, don’t even think about adding it on (unless it’s relatively minor or an errand like getting gas or groceries).

V. NEXT WEEK

I’d say that I’ve accomplished my goal this week of validating a market need and acquiring some early adopters (albeit a very small number, but I haven’t tried to market Cusoy much at all). I’ve also identified a number of competitors and growing issues I need to deal with regarding my app idea, but week #2’s focus will be on building out the MVP and figuring out product differentiation and potential monetization strategies.

Key lessons learned in week 1:

  • What kind of personal problems do you have? Start from there.
  • Find your users and talk to them.
  • Find your rhythm to avoid burning out and focus on things that will drive you forward.

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