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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

I. MY MARKET AND WHY I CHOSE IT

I have chosen the construction industry as my market.

Seems to be a very interesting choice that catches nearly everyone off guard (except the occasional nod: “yep, that industry is ripe for disruption”) since I just recently shut down my gluten-free app and I have to explain myself because I get the same questions each time.

“Wait, how do you go from gluten-free (health and wellness) to… construction?”  <scratches head>

“Why construction?”

(and then) “Um, are you… passionate about construction?” <cocks eyebrow>

Great questions.

I already pre-emptively answered the passion question by writing about the problem with passion two weeks ago.

With that out of the way, here are three main reasons why I chose construction and why it appeals to me:

  1. Personal experience and connections
  2. One of the slowest moving industries to adopt and adapt to technology
  3. Tremendous market (by extension, Bay Area real estate and construction market)

(1) Personal experience and connections
My dad owns and manages several townhouses as a landlord and has extensively remodeled our house back home — converted our garage into a library study and remodeled our basement, kitchen, bathrooms and outdoor deck.

While I was not personally involved in any of the contractor work, I was exposed to the experience of being a homeowner and trying to find contractors and the process from start to completion of the actual work. I also occasionally helped my dad with townhouse repairs like repainting cabinets, etc. to prepare for new tenants.

Reasons #2 and 3 are rather self-explanatory.

Two weeks ago, I also mentioned two approaches to picking a green light niche market — and the construction market matches both approaches for me.

I also have considered other markets, which I won’t mention here, but have already decided to stick with the construction market, and for now, residential construction.

If any of you are interested in construction and are technical, email me 😉

II. IDEA EXTRACTION

By the numbers so far (December 2013-February 2014):

  • 19 phone calls (30-60+ min each)
  • 3 in-person meetings (60+ min each)
  • 10+ software ideas (but none of them explicitly validated to my satisfaction)

I’m aiming for another 50+ calls/meetings in the next four weeks and a finalized software idea to go forward to start doing wireframes and mockups. I feel I’m going a little bit slowly and behind, but actively pushing myself to get more calls done, faster.

I don’t plan to go into the nitty gritty of how exactly I’m going about this, as there are numerous great resources out there on best practices for cold emailing and cold calling.

Essentially speaking, I want to learn about the person’s workflows and processes, biggest pain points and frustrations — and seeing if there’s a way for software to help them save time and money.

Perhaps once I get things off and running I can talk about the specific things I’ve been doing in this lead generation process.

III. HIGHS AND LOWS THESE PAST 2 WEEKS

Highs

  • This month’s numbers: In just February 2014 alone: 10 phone calls and 2 in-person meetings. I went from 2 phone calls one week to 8 phone calls in another… again, lots of mental hangups going on and procrastination.
  • Deeper understanding of the industry. I am getting a crash course in construction (granted, at a very high bird’s eye level) and know much more about their pain points than I did before. I am picking up on the jargon and processes each company goes through and am narrowing the scope of my questions based on my cumulative knowledge.
  • Other business idea #1: accounting. My dad called me to discuss a potentially lucrative business idea which would solve a pain in his industry (accounting). His premise seems solid, though I haven’t fully explored and done due diligence. But if I pursued this, he would be a great partner who could provide the domain expertise.
  • Other business idea #2: restaurant management. I recently met a chef who sold his restaurants for a pretty penny and even did consulting for Stanford’s campus dining and athlete nutrition. He certainly has the domain expertise and said he could even finance it as well. But that I needed to be serious about it. I’m still not sure, but keeping it as an option.
  • Following up. Not needing to send 50 new emails/day or prospecting 50 leads/day. Not needing to cold call. I’ve been landing many more calls from emails with existing leads — I didn’t have to keep emailing 50 new people every day (like other people I read about), because the sheer quality of my leads are very high and very responsive to me. Been focusing on getting calls from all these leads and people who’ve given me their phone numbers (but I still haven’t called them yet) — 15-20+ or so.
  • Longer runway. Instead of 6-7 months like I thought, I actually have 10+ months. Yes, due to my small side job. I need to explore web design stuff to extend my runway a lot more, but I’m happy right now.

Lows

  • Slow ramp up. I procrastinated a lot the beginning of this month — just had a lot of mental hangups about reaching out to people and getting on the phone. That’s a whole other story.
  • Only hit 30% of my goal phone calls this month. This month alone, I’ve only done 10 phone calls and 2 in-person meetings, which is only 30% of my goal of 40 calls. Just abysmal… I don’t have an excuse.
  • Struggling to narrow down within construction roles. I’m hearing the same complaints over and over again, am getting the hang of the lingo and big picture view of how construction works. Even with 10+ software ideas, I am struggling to find that one “huge” pain point which is well-defined and validated enough. I think this will get easier with time with the more people I talk to… and a more targeted approach.
  • Not going back to reflect on calls. I think I’m missing a lot of information by not going back to re-listen to each and every one of my calls. Some part of me just doesn’t want to do it since it’ll be very time-consuming. I will get that done this month.
  • Procrastinating with my current workflow and struggling to establish a steady 20 Mile March system. Still in the process of tweaking my systems. It’s a constant struggle to stay productive and focused. Don’t think I need to hire a VA just yet, but just kick my own ass into getting work done with my CRM even if it gives me a headache.

IV. THE QUESTION OF DOMAIN EXPERTISE

Do I need to get a job in the construction industry, or partner up with an industry veteran?

After talking with my parents and other professionals, I’ve learned two very important lessons this week. Because I am a total newbie to the construction industry (hey, I just know how to be a B2C software product manager), I really have two choices in front of me if I want to continue pursuing the construction market for a B2B SaaS product:

  1. I need to get a job at a construction company, OR
  2. I need to partner up with a professional, an industry veteran in the business.

Me being me thought I could simply just learn by asking the right questions — but there’s so many things I don’t know, or don’t know I don’t know. This is getting somewhat less and less with each phone conversation, but I am very self-aware that I am only scratching the surface. (At the same time, at what point do you really need to know everything vs. 80/20-ing it and just knowing enough for one very well-defined pain point?)

I hesitate to get a job at a construction company, simply because I’m not that crazy about construction (surprise, surprise) and idealistic me thinks I don’t need to get my hands dirty to find a software product for them.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Of course, this is nuanced — several aspects of construction are extremely technical, much more so than others… but it is a very interesting question that I don’t have a good answer for at this moment; I think that can only be answered on a case-by-case basis, predicated on a very sweeping generalization that more domain expertise is helpful than less, each time (generally speaking).

YC Female Founders Conference

YC Female Founders Conference was this past weekend at the Computer History Museum. This blog post is not meant to be a review of the conference — which was really great, by the way — but more so my biggest takeaway from hearing their speakers and regarding practical applications to my own startup situation.

Two of the speakers mentioned getting domain expertise by actually taking up jobs or licenses in the industry — which crucially helped them in their startup pivots.

First, Adora Cheung, one of the founders of Homejoy, actually took a temporary cleaning job to learn the in’s and out’s of the industry and business. She cleaned people’s houses and slept in her car in the process (commuting from her place in Mountain View to San Francisco). Wow.

Second, Jessica Mah, one of the founders of inDinero, actually coded by day and studied accounting by night to ultimately get her IRS tax license. Wow.

Two words: Dedication and hustle.

I’m now even more torn and confused what I should do. Should I get a job in the construction industry? Or just find someone to partner with? Or just keep chugging along and not worry about this right now?

No right answers, just hard questions. If you have any advice or thoughts on this, I’d love to hear.

V. LESSONS LEARNED

  • Establish systems to beat procrastination. Focus on the process to carry you through. I sound like a broken record and hypocritical since I find it hard sometimes to follow my own advice. Systems, systems, systems.

See you in a couple weeks!

P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter here.

And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on FB or Twitter.

8 thoughts on “Weeks #3-4: The market I’m targeting and idea extraction

    1. Hi Nick,

      Thank you! Slowly getting there 😉

      I’m not in the Foundation, unfortunately. Just following Dane’s framework.

      Are you in the Foundation?

  1. Hey, Melissa. Awesome post! I just found this blog today. I actually made my first 10 cold calls (ever) today so I was googling for tips and that is how I found you.

    I’m about where you are right now and feeling discouraged as I haven’t been able to get 1 idea extraction interview yet (through cold email or cold calls). It is really motivating to see this.

    Your also one of the first other programmers I’ve seen (besides Josh Isaak) I’ve seen doing this. My background is engineering and software development and I feel like all the other people doing this are marketing/business/sales people.

    Anyway, keep up the good work and I look forward to see your progress.

  2. Hi Melissa,
    if I were you, I would not partner with an industry professional or veteran. You have to learn more, but I think this is the most risky and expensive way to do it. What if he does not deliver the goods? What if you don’t like to work with him? What if…

    So, take a job in construction? Hmmm… I think there is a 3rd way. Why don’t you do consulting for construction companies or some other kind of conscierge service for them. Just to learn, you won’t be building a consulting business. And the good part is that your customers will fund your learning.

    I built a quite successful consulting company and didn’t know anything about the industry I served in the beginning. You start feeling like a fraud, but the thuth is that every process can be improved if an intelligent person questions the whys. Why is it done this way? Why not this other way? Why? etc.

    I am also in the process of building an unsexy B2B SaaS company myself. Loving your posts, very usefull. Some questions so far:
    1) How is your cold email/call script?
    2) Where did you find your prospects? LinkedIn? Manta.com?

    Good Luck!

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