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How to find EarlyVangelists in your Customer Development Process


I recently replied to an email (excerpted below) from the lean startup googlegroup where someone was looking for tips on how to find people to give him feedback on his product. I have quoted a part of his email as well as my response to his quoted questions. I spend a huge amount of time on Customer Development and outreach at VMTurbo, so this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.

If you have any best practices on getting feedback on your startup product, please let me know in the comments.

START OF EMAIL EXCERPT —-

>
> So I’m at the point that I’d love to bounce ideas off of people who’ve
> been down this road before;
>
> – I’ve been doing just cold emails & calls to higher-profile
> developers asking for them to betatest, and it’s not going all that
> great – is there a better way to gather the attention of some early
> adopters?

Try to get a warm intro through a mutual friend or acquaintance to
these folks. People are much more inclined to engage if you come
through a trusted source. LinkedIn is a great way to identify these
mutual connections. Other things you could try:

- Trade show and conference speakers & panelists: I recently ran an
outreach campaign to get feedback on our product from speakers at a
recent industry conference and got a very high hit rate (~10%+ replies
to a cold email, with many of them following up to have initial
discussions with us). I think this channel is effective because these
are folks who a) are deemed to have expertise in a specific area b)
like to talk about the technology in question and c) like to keep up
with industry trends and new companies. If you structure your
approach in a personal way, I think this could work well for you.

- Press releases: Watch your industry and competitors for press
releases. Usually a customer is quoted in competitor press releases,
and generally via LinkedIn or Google you can figure out how to reach
them. Again, one could argue that these people might be in bed with
one of your potential competitors, but at this stage of the game, I’d
say that the feedback you will get will far outweigh the risk of your
idea or ’secret sauce’ being exposed.

> This wasn’t in the original email, but it goes without saying that customers of complementary technologies and products are also quoted in press releases :)

- LinkedIn: People self-identify on LinkedIn via joining specific
interest groups or by indicating in their profiles that they are a
member of various user groups. Why not approach these folks in a
personal way (doing some homework on their background, reading their
blog, etc) and see if they’d be willing to chat to provide feedback?
Also, user group leaders are always interested in bringing in new
vendors to demo products at meetings, so they are generally receptive
to speaking to startups and providing feedback.

I’d avoid cold calls where possible. Your market (Rails developers, I
guess?) is large enough where you should be able to find some
potential customers who could provide feedback.

I’d also add that you should be polite and persistent in your
outreach. If you make a cold call or email and it is not returned, I
see no harm in sending a polite, gentle reminder a week later. Same
if you’re introduced through a mutual acquaintance.

—- END OF EMAIL EXCERPT —-

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John Gannon is an Associate at L Capital Partners, a $165-million fund looking to advance companies with the potential to take groundbreaking products to market. He blogs at http://johngannonblog.com. Prior to joining L Capital Partners, John worked with Highland Capital Partners and Chart Venture Partners to identify and evaluate new opportunities in the enterprise IT sector. He also served as a consultant advising startup companies on business development, product strategy and venture capital fundraising. He currently sit on the board of advisers of VAlign Software.

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