Help Investors Believe you – show them Customer Quotes

When my mentor asked me for specific quotes from “potential customers” to demonstrate demand in an investor presentation the next day, I was up S*&% creek.

We don’t want investors “guessing” whether or not there’s demand for our products, but we don’t have time to walk through every single experiment and interview we’ve done during a pitch.  What we can do though, is share the excitement, demand, and desperation for our product via real customer quotes:

“This is Super needed in the marketplace. We will pay you for this” – Impact Investor*

“Our members will position themselves for better jobs if they have skills-based volunteering experience” – Career site for impact professionals*

“Existing programs are way too expensive, and my frustration in trying to find a legitimate opportunity could cause me to do nothing.” – Professional interested in skills-based travel volunteering*

“We can’t find the volunteers we need in order to grow our social enterprise.” – Potential hosting enterprise in Turkey*

*Names excluded for this blog post. Permission was specific to being used in presentation decks.
Make sure to respect your customers (and potential ones).

Unfortunately, through all my early customer interviews I had failed to collect quality quotes (until now).  I know I heard some great quotes, and probably scratched some down on paper, but I did a terrible job at documenting them, and I never asked for permission to use them.

I needed new customers to interview, FAST, and I needed enough quotes from them to ensure that I had a pool of HIGH QUALITY quotes. Sure, I could have gone back to people I interviewed, but I decided to use this as an opportunity to reach more people and do more validation.

And as my new venture, MovingWorlds, is working to effectively scale international, skills-based volunteering, I needed quotes about professionals who, in their own words, expressed needs that our solution addresses.

Using Quora to Find Potential Customers and Validate Our Problem and Solution Hypotheses

I was blown away how easy it was to find people with the EXACT challenges we were trying to solve. I used Quora in 2 ways

  1. Find people with relevant questions, and react to their posts
  2. Asked for specific quotes about my product

Finding people was easy. I started typing in “Skills-based volunteering” and before I could finish Quora was suggesting a myriad of topics that were addressing both parts of my marketplace – people looking for opportunities, and enterprises looking for volunteers (as well as companies looking to promote skills-based volunteering:

I was hoping for 2 things from finding people on Quora: first, to get feedback directly in Quora, and also to direct some traffic to a survey.

After I looked through Quora for a few minutes to better understand that types of questions and answers people were giving about this skills-based volunteering topic, I went to SurveyMonkey and setup a survey to capture the data I needed. I was then able to leave comments on Quora, and in exchange, ask for people to take few moments to give me feedback on Quora, and in my survey.

NOTE: Be respectful about searching for feedback here. People come to Quora for answers, not for spammy trawlers.

Here is an example of how I responded to a question so that I was still offering valuable feedback, but also asking for the opportunity to get a survey response, and maybe even a phone interview:

In addition to survey responses and comments on Quora, I also received personal messages as follow-up.

In a  relatively short period of time I was able get useful quotes that I needed to use as anecdotes and proof points in my pitch deck, find new customers to interview, better understand customer needs, and find matches for the next phase: concierge MVP (I’ll write more on concierge testing, later).

Using Mechanical Turk to Get Customer Validation Quotes

I didn’t have the time or resources to setup extensive customer interviews through Mechanical Turk like Justin wrote about on a previous post, so instead, I setup a quick survey to do the following:

  • Only capture professionals willing to volunteer their time
  • Make sure respondents were from our target demographic (from the US, had a professional skill, and attained a college degree)
  • Get quotes about challenges and opportunities for finding skills-based volunteering opportunities abroad

Step 1: Setup survey

I used SurveyMonkey and added qualifier questions to ensure respondents weren’t faking it. Surveyors got bounced with a “reject” code  if they didn’t have the right education level or live in the right place. “Trick” questions like ‘age’ and ‘location’ and ‘date of birth’ were included to cross-check data in case people were trying to spam the system (e.g. ask for age on one page, and then ask for date of birth on another, if they don’t match, its most likely worthless data)

Step 2: Setup HITs in Mechanical Turk.

I used the following project (screen shot below) to get people for the survey. I found that adding qualifiers in the ask produced better results. In this case, I had two main qualifiers:

  1. Must be a resident of the U.S.A. and have at least a Bachelor’s degree. I then confirmed these facts in the survey with specific questions (e.g. where do you live and what is your highest level of education achieved)
  2. Adding a line “Important: Be sure to read each question carefully. Randomly answering questions will be detected and will result in rejection of the HIT” also helped improve results

You can view the survey by following this link if you want to see the exact questions. Here is a screen shot of the project request on Mechanical Turk:

Here is the code for Mechanical Turk  project request that created the field above:

<h3>Answer a &lt;5 min survey about international travel and volunteering</h3>
<div class=”highlight-box”>

We are conducting a survey to better understand international travel and volunteering habits of people living in the US. We need to understand your opinion about professionals who want to travel and/or donate their expertise to make the world a better place. Select the link below to complete the survey.&nbsp; At the end of the survey, you will receive a code to paste into the box below to receive credit for taking our survey.
<p>In order to qualify for this survey, you <i><b>must </b></i>be from and/or living in the United States, <i><b>and </b></i>have achieved at least a Bachelor’s degree.</p>
<p>Survey link: <a href=”” target=”_blank”></a></p>

IMPORTANT: Be sure to read each question carefully. Randomly answering quesitons will be detected and will result in rejection of the HIT.
<p>Provide the survey code here:</p>
<p><input type=”text” size=”10″ id=”Q2age” name=”Q2age” /></p>
<p><style type=”text/css”>
.highlight-box { border:solid 0px #98BE10; background:#FCF9CE; color:#222222; padding:4px; text-align:left; font-size: smaller;}
<p>&nbsp;Watch the video on our home page to learn more:&nbsp;<a href=”” target=”_blank”></a></p>

In the survey, in addition to asking for people to provide a quote if they were interested in skills-based volunteering, I also asked for email addresses if I could follow-up to schedule an interview. I got nearly a 50% response rate – within 1 day – from qualified leads to schedule an interview:

I have not yet had the time to follow-up with all my survey responders, but I have gotten some useful feedback and a great list of qualified people to interview and get quotes from.

Extra Credit Tip:

Don’t make the same mistake I did and not have powerful quotes and anecdotes ready to go when potential partners are asking for them :)

For all of you early on in the interview process, make sure to collect quality quotes (and get permission to share them) from the people you interview. To help organize this, my team and I setup a Google Form that made it easy to capture quotes. We could either submit ourselves, or invite others to leave us a quote through a Google Form. Key fields: Quote, Date, First Name, Last Name, Permission to Publish (Yes, No, maybe – get confirmation for each use), Email, OK to follow-up for more quotes (Yes, No). Looks like this:

Join the experiment – want more ideas on validating your business model and sharing that validation with others? Subscribe via Email or RSS for our next update: How to Interview Complete Strangers.

Customer Development Made Easy…

Anybody that Knocks LinkedIn Doesn’t Know How to Use It

LinkedIn is a powerful, easy-to-use customer discovery tool that is effective at free, and awesome at premium. At MovingWorlds, we have found over 50% of our potential customers and partners all through LinkedIn by using these tricks.

4 Easy Ways to Find Potential Customers on LinkedIn

(To discover potential customers that we wrote about in our previous post, How We Found Customers to Start Developing, we were interested in finding talent management professionals at Fortune 500 organizations).

The Best Way to Find Groups of People on LinkedIn is to Start with Google

Seriously. Take 60 seconds and do a couple Google searches to see if lists already exist on LinkedIn. When I was looking for potential customers, I wanted to find only find people working at Fortune 500 companies. Since LinkedIn now uses Skills and Experience as a search feature, and this is listed as a category, it made this super easy for Google to take me directly to the most useful page. This is true for people as well.

Using Google to find relevant lists and people in LinkedIn
LinkedIn Fortune 500 Professionals

Use the Advanced Search in LinkedIn

I’m shocked how many people don’t know how to use advanced search in their email clients (read tips), Twitter (read tips), Google (read tips), and on LinkedIn. Take 10 minutes to learn it and save yourself a ton of time in the future.

There are a LOT of ways to used the advanced search filters… take time to play with different options until you find what works for you. Look at all the different categories you can segment by:

Types of Advanced Filters on LinkedIn

Since I was specifically looking for Talent Management professionals at Fortune 500, I wanted to narrow the big list down to people with decision making power. So I used filters to find people who meet these exact criteria:

  • anybody with ‘talent management’ in their profile
  • and was a Director, VP, or above
  • and was at a company of at least 250 employees
  • and was at a Fortune 500 company

There are lots of other filters, but this created a nice list for me. NOTE: some filters are for premium members only. I signed up for the ‘Business‘ account and prepaid for one year – it’s more than worth every penny. I’ve found potential investors, partners, reporters, and potential customers.

Talent Management professionals at Fortune 500 companies on LinkedIn

Participate in LinkedIn Groups to Find People you Should Know About, but Don’t

A lot of people that you should be talking to don’t show up in your results. Usually this is because they have a weird title, or for some reason, you’ve chosen a filter(s) that leave them out. So after finding people using the above methods, I always do another search in LinkedIn to find relevant groups that potential customers are likely to be a part of. Continuing the same example above, I look for people in groups related to talent management, HR, and society of human resources professionals. Once I found these groups, I looked for the most active people in them and tried to message them directly (sometimes you can InMail people for free if you are in the same group).

Using LinkedIn Groups to find potential customers

In addition to messaging top contributors, I’ll join a lot of these groups to get more insight. I look at conversations and respond to polls, provide connections, and comment on entries so that I am a valued group member. I’ll also ask the group if they have suggestions on who to talk to. You will be surprised at how eager people are to help, as long as you add value. As an example, we were travelling down to the Bay Area, so I asked the Bay Area Sustainability for tips on who to contact – we got 4 comments and GREAT leads. In addition to comments, a few members messaged me directly to help us setup additional meetings.

We got 4 great leads by asking for them on LinkedIn Groups

Use InMail, but Don’t Abuse It

Yes, InMails cost money. But they also get results. You get a certain amount with your premium membership, so try them out. Just be respectful of the community and of people. Don’t post garbage in groups, and don’t reach out to people until you have a compelling value proposition. For tips on how we wrote messages, see how we Engaged Potential Customers.

NOTE: Do not just try and ‘connect’ with people as a free way to message them.  Use InMail.

If you are blindly reaching out to targets you have identified, do not just click on the “connect” button. It barely ever works, and honestly, it’s abusing the system and ruins it for everybody else. If you don’t know somebody and want to message them, use the InMail option.

How to connect to people on LinkedIn - Use InMail
How to connect to people on LinkedIn – Use InMail

If you need help finding potential customers for any stage of your lean start-up process, LinkedIn can be a powerful tool, and is worth a 1-month trial and some experimenting. Like anything else at your startup, if it doesn’t work, then pivot.

In future posts, I’ll share tips on how we found potential customers using Twitter, Blogs, Press, and Google Groups. Subscribe via Email or RSS to get more tips!

How else do you use LinkedIn for Lean Startups Efforts?

Our 3 Steps for Engaging Customers

This is the 2nd post in a 3 part series about how MovingWorlds is developing its customer base before product launch. Read post 1: How we Found Customers to Start Developing.

There is an old saying “I hear and I forget, I see and I understand, I do and I remember.”

People don’t like hearing you talk about your idea, and usually they don’t even like seeing it. They like doing… touching, feeling, brainstorming.

Just liked vested employees are better employees, vested partners are better partners (yes, we call our customers partners because they are the most important thing to us). Spending time with potential customers is also a vital part of the customer validation and creation steps outlined in Steven Blank’s customer development model. So how do we engage potential customers before we have product?


We ask. We say things like “We’re new at this and we want to add value or get out of the way. If you can afford time to provide us advice to add more value to ecosystem, we would be grateful for your time”. People by far prefer to give advice then be sold to. Here is an example of a cold-call email and response using LinkedIn InMails:


We don’t have much, but we give what we have freely. This includes (but is not limited to), introductions to new connections (my linkedin network is your linkedin network), resource sharing (especially of new and relevant trends and articles), and our time (I was shocked by how many times I’ve been taken up on the offer and produced value by saying things like “I’m happy to jump on the phone or meet for coffee to brainstorm any of your challenges”).


We actually listen to the advice that we get, incorporate it, and then share it back with the people that gave it to us. People love to see their advice taken seriously, and a nice side – though unintended – benefit is that it makes them vested partners.

Examples here are just over email, but I do even more over the phone and in person.

Engaging customers is hard work that inevitably results in a lot of negative responses. But from every negative comes a valuable filtering affect: learning which potential customers are good, long-term partners, and which are sexy leads that do nothing more than distract you.

How do you engage potential customers?

In my next post on customer development, I’ll talk about how we’re making the ask: turning potential customers into paying customers and evangelists. Subscribe by email or RSS to get it directly to your inbox.

How we Found Customers to Start Developing

Since different businesses require different approaches to customer development, I want to make sure we have a wide range of startups on here sharing their stories.  With that, I’m very excited to introduce Mark Horoszowski.

Mark is CEO at MovingWorlds, a B2B social enterprise that’s in the midst of its validating it’s business model.  He’ll be contributing a 3-part series on discovering, engaging, and converting his customers.

Most innovative startups, by definition, are innovative. This means that their products (or services) doesn’t always have a clearly defined market (or even if one exists, the founders are likely to think otherwise). This was (is?) certainly the case for us.

In fact, one of our biggest challenges thus far has been clearly defining who are customers are, and then getting in the room and speaking to them before we built our product.

To be fair, while we have done a lot of things wrong, we did one very important thing right – develop market need and potential customers before we started building.

So how did we do it? Or rather, what did we fail at, learn from, and then get right?

First, some background on MovingWorlds. We’re creating a matching site that connects professionals that want to change the world to companies already changing it. It’s like a where for-good companies go to find professionals eager to donate their expertise in exchanging for a life-changing travel experience (and vice-versa). Originally, we were going to create a white-labeled solution to sell into large corporations so that they could offer “meaningful” sabbaticals, retirements, and vacations as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Some early advisers also told us companies would eat it up as part of employee engagement, learning and development, and recruiting programs

The Failure: Unclearly Defining Customers and Misunderstanding Needs
With some simple mock-ups and a one-pager, we started going to company websites, looking for everybody in HR, Recruiting, Employee Engagement, and CSR and then proceeded to e-blast as many as possible with a blanket statement like “Our turn-key solution will help improve CSR, build brand trust, offer rich learning opportunities, and provide employees desirable opportunities.” Our stats were something like this:

  • 75 messages
  • 5 responses
  • 2 insightful phone calls
  • 1 worthless meeting

In retrospect, it’s no surprise we had minimal success getting in the room and zero success building partnerships. Lessons learned:

1. Don’t Waste Your Time and Their Time.

We (like most startups) thought our solution could do more than it really could. It couldn’t. Trying to sell something that could potentially do everything doesn’t work. When selling into any organization, it is important to note that a recruiting budget is different from a CSR budget is different from an employee engagement budget, etc. As such, it is impossible to sell in turnkey solutions, especially based on concept.

2. Segment Audience, Tailor Questions.

In other words, don’t talk to anybody that is a waste of time (see rule #1). This qualifies as anybody who does not have specific needs that your company specifically addresses (which we wrote about in a previous post). After a while, we narrowed our product focus to something much more specific: source desirable experiential learning opportunities by connecting professionals directly to world-changing organizations that needed help with specific business challenges. After some brainstorming, we settled a few key targets to answer some specific questions:

  1. Provost’s and department heads in universities who wanted to expand curriculum to include experiential learning
  2. Career service staff in universities who needed help finding opportunities for all their students, especially for internships in order to boost marketability
  3. Learning and development personnel in corporations who are  preparing employees for global business practices
  4. HR Benefit Managers with a focus on employee engagement who were tasked with keeping more employees at the company, longer.

Read more about segmenting customers on our last post, 5 Steps to Identify, Segment, and Contact our Customers.

3. Be Happy and Thankful when People Say No.

From our previous list, we quickly learned that the only people who really cared were b (career services) and d (employee engagement). The level of standardization and hand-holding that needed to be done to make professors happy with curriculum modifications would be a huge time-suck, and L&D personnel needed similar assurances and very hands-on, team-based experiences.

The Success: Clearly Defined Customers with Clearly Defined Needs
We heard no a lot. The only thing we heard more than no was nothing. But things are shifting. My first round of cold-calls had a response rate of 1% (I sent over 100 emails). My response rate now is closer to 40%.More importantly, we have partners. Lots of them. Most importantly, we have people who said “We will pay for this”. But, we also have a big group of people in the “grey zone” who have said “I want to see the test site when it’s live. I’d be happy to give advice, and if I like it, we’ll shop it around internally”. This, usually, is a red flag that means they won’t pay for it (and you shouldn’t build it). And in truth, we’re not expecting all of these people to be our paying customers. However, many of them have said that they will promote Experteering to their constituents. So even though they’re not paying for it the way we envisioned, they are willing to help promote when we are in alpha, and the data from that will be incredibly useful to improve product and nurture customers, and we have enough people who have said they will pay in order for us to feel comfortable building.

Don’t believe the nay-sayers (unless they’re your target customers), you don’t need a product to develop customers. You need tenacity, humility, and passion. Tenacity to keep knocking on doors, humility to understand you need customers more than they need you, and passion in your company to inspire other people to join you.

In my next post on customer development, I’ll share 3 ways we successfully engaged (and are engaging) potential customers. Subscribe by email to get it directly to your inbox.