In this post, I'll explain how you can come up with a start-up idea, get it validated, and have a great launch while providing value for the subreddit. I will not be discussing "how to build MVP" part because that'd be a waste of time for everybody. I've validated multiple products on Reddit and built one of them. The product I ended up building was for self-learners and I leveraged a self-learning community called r/learnprogramming. Using this strategy,
- I ended up garnering 300,000 views, 1500 sign-ups for the product.
- It was largely driven by a post that got 4200 upvotes, 170 awards, 200 comments which were absolutely pivotal for getting feedback.
- I spent $0 to do this while managing a day job.
The framework that I listed down here can be used for Discord and other forums too. I'm sticking to Reddit since that's where I personally found success. Here are a few examples of the Reddit launches which benefitted the communities more than the creators and in turn found "community-idea fit".
Why Should You Validate on Reddit?
- To validate that your idea solves an actual problem that the user has.
- Your first version is probably not the best version, the community and their feedback will guide it to where it wants to go.
- You shouldn't waste months on building something no one wants and it's good to have distribution before you have the product.
- It would help you with SEO.
What Should You Validate on Reddit?
- A B2C product popular enough to have a subreddit. If you're building a B2B product for hedge fund managers interested in silver commodities, you'll have a much harder time doing that on Reddit.
- Something you're sure will create value to the Subreddit you chose. If you release it without creating value, you will ruin your reputation, get banned and make it tough for the mods and ruin the community.
Now since we listed down the pre-requisites, let's see how we can get this done!
Frame the Problem Statement
The first part before building the MVP is to validate your idea. Most often the idea software engineers come up with is a solution. We see the end product, the website, the iOS app, the hardware. The aim is to frame the problem statement. You need to find an answer to this question - what's the difficulty the user is facing? In most cases, you'll need to optimize the solution multiple times to get to the problem statement to get to one that actually makes sense and one that the user would resonate with. Unless you're a person who's coming into the game with a problem statement, you're good to go.
My problem statement was this
"Beginners are confused regarding career options while self-learning a job."
The solution was to build a platform where you could explore roadmaps on tech where it outlined how one could go from studying a particular programming language to a career in tech. I too started thinking of it from the solution instead of the problem. Before I wrote a single line of code, I was committed to talking to a hundred users to
- Remove any personal bias from my idea.
- Get an email committing to use the product so that I had distribution before the product
Now we have the problem statement, and we haven't written a single line of code, how do we make sure there's a market for this idea?
Find the Community-Idea fit
I think the reason Reddit works well for this is that if I received a hand-crafted personalised message from a comment I wrote on the niche topic that I'm interested in from another anonymous user, I know for a fact that this individual is reaching out to me for what I'm interested in and not because of who I am. Now we have an idea why Reddit might be good for value creation and now you know that the way you reach out to these people has to be in a way that creates value for them while also engaging them.
The first thing you need to do is find these communities, to do that I googled "learn programming subreddit". It returns three subreddits - r/learnprogramming, r/coding, r/programming. All three are important but r/learnprogramming had the biggest potential. Then you read the rules to get an idea of who uses this subreddit. You sort by the top (by the year) and you get a solid idea about what the community is about and what kind of posts people share there. Use your reasoning to see if the users here would resonate with the problem statement at hand.
For the other products I validated, I googled for "podcasters subreddit" and it returned r/podcasting and r/podcasts. The second product was a product for youtube creators so the keyword I used was "youtube creators subreddit". It returns three subreddits - r/youtubers, r/newtubers, r/partneredyoutube. All three are important but r/partneredyoutube was more of my audience but I never went about building these two products due to multiple reasons even though I got validation.
Find the Early-Evangelists From the Forum
While reaching out to folks, please be absolutely sure that you're not spamming these users. This is a valuable channel for reaching out to folks and we as responsible citizens of the internet need to withhold a pact for using these sustainably in a way that creates value.
So did you find a subreddit that you think would like your product? Great job. It might take some time to find the niche you're looking for. If you do not find the exact one, broaden your keywords. If you're looking for something like a community of cardiovascular surgeons, your idea might be too niche for Reddit but if you broaden your keywords, you get r/surgeon with 25,000 users.
Now, how do we find the right users to reach out to? How do we frame that message to make it so that the person you reaching out will get value out of the exchange too?
In this part of the step, you need to stake out the community and learn. You need to know what kind of people post on those forums, what kind of discussions takes place and who the right set of users to reach out to are. If you spam, you ruin your chances of landing an interesting conversation regarding the idea.
For this, I staked out the forums for a couple of weeks. I went to "new", and read the posts which people were posting. Even if you do not have a solid idea of what your problem statement is, this part helped me to resonate with the problems and polish my value proposition. In the case of my roadmap product, I saw that a good amount of questions in r/learnprogramming was "how do I get started with X, "what's the next step after learning Y", and "how do you become Z". This was a moment of epiphany as this is exactly the target market that my product was designed for.
Slowly but surely I started reaching out to these folks to get a better understanding of the problem that they were facing. Since I had experience with programming, I tried to answer their questions so that an exchange of value could take place. If you're willing to help out people, they would be willing to help you. Slowly I got to understand their pain points and even got some emails so that I can reach out when I finished building it. Through these conversations, I pinned down the value proposition and the problem statement.
Explore, Create and Share Learning Roadmaps in Tech
- Explore Roadmaps Made By Self-Learners
- Build Your Own Roadmap And Pursue Long-Term Goals
- Explore Careers Day-To-Days and Project Ideas
Validate Your Idea and Collect Email.
I still wasn't convinced that the users would come if I built it. Yes, I got validation for the problem statement and got a couple of emails but not enough for me to be satisfied. Would they pay if there was an option? Can I acquire users at scale? I wanted to run couple of experiments to see if it'd work.
First, I asked my friend who was an established data scientist to note down the resources he used to self-learn data science. Then I visualised this using Figma, which I had to learn and released it with integration to substack to collect emails. I released this PDF in a subreddit, made a medium post and it got some much-needed traction.
Second, I set up a dummy landing page using unicornplatform and shared it on Twitter and reached out to folks I was talking to already. It was a free platform, so that helped.
I did not release this landing page on the subreddit since I did not build the platform that I was promising and it was just a test to see if it could get people interested enough to give me their emails. Through these two strategies, I got 150 emails which convinced me it's time to build!
Build the MVP
I know you have been itching to build the product but I'm glad you got had the patience to read till here. Hopefully, you've gotten rid of your biases and have a solid go-to-market strategy and distribution (email list) in place that's ready to see your bomb-ass product after you finish building it.
I'm not going to explain how to build a product because I'm pretty sure there are better articles than this which outlines how to build an MVP. Make sure you keep this process to 1-3 months if you're on this full-time. I had a job so it took me a wee bit more, and I had to learn frontend and I chose Golang to build the backend which was a mistake in hindsight. I knew Python pretty well so I should've stuck to that. The learning phase probably added two to three extra months to the process.
When you Get Stuck, Go Back to Your Initial Users
I suggested keeping this sprint short is because chances are you'll be hit with an existential crisis while you're building it. The longer it takes, the harder it'll be to keep up the momentum. It took me 5-6 months to ship, which could've been done faster and there were times I wanted to quit. I constantly asked myself "who'll want this?". During these tough times where you're questioning your sanity, you need to go back to your users and get more validation to get your momentum back especially if you're an indie-hacker. There were times I was like "only if I worked on a B2B product" before launch and then I'll go back and read the initial customer development I did and it'd give me a boost of energy to keep going. I think questioning your sanity is a good way to make sure that you're not building anything based on your delusions, too much of this can be detrimental.
After the MVP is Done, Release it!
The launch of a product is not the end goal. It is the iterations where you keep improving while finding sustainable distribution strategies to build a business that generates revenue. But the initial traction from your launch would introduce you to new users, problems and opportunities which would broaden your vision. Remember that launch is a one-time thing and it's not a sustainable strategy. But when you're doing the launch, it doesn't hurt to do it right!
Now you have your distribution channels ready i.e the subreddit where you validated your product and you're absolutely sure that it creates value for the users from our talks with users. Now prepare for your launch. I personally prefer to have a text post than a link post so that I can explain my reasoning but there are multiple ways to do it, but ideally you should just stick to a text post. Be sure to outline the problem statement, since that's what users resonate with more, the solution and your motivation for building it and the link to the product. Make sure to get feedback on your post from your associates to see if it resonates. You can use your initial set of users to guide you through this. Research on what the best time to release it would be and launch!
These are my successful launches
- r/learnprogramming - To make career-planning less confusing while learning to code and I made a website with over 50 CS career roadmaps!
- r/learnpython - I made a website with 12 career roadmaps you can pursue while learning Python.
- r/internetisbeautiful - I made a website where you can explore, create and share learning roadmaps with over 50 existing roadmaps to learn from
It did take some time to tune my launch strategies to see what'd get me the most exposure, growth and sign-ups. I had to keep the roadmaps free to create some network effects and it worked according to plan. I had no revenue creation strategies in place since growth was what I was targeting and I quite did not expect this kind of a launch. Now I have distribution with a big email list and an easy way to run experiments to create revenue.
I do have regrets. I should've better engaged these visitors, and retained them but in my defence, I did not expect to get this kind of virality. During the initial launch, I should've at least converted these users to a Discord channel. Alas, I didn't. Here are some product metrics that are solely through the Reddit launch.
These are some risks with this strategy,
- A specific community for your needs might not exist. Your product might be too niche.
- The mods could remove your post even if it's something that's actually useful. You should do valid research to see if there's a risk of that happening and reach out to them to get the reason.
- You might get banned for spamming no matter how useful it is. Do not get discouraged, and keep pivoting and tuning your message to see where you're going wrong.
If you have an idea of planning a launch like this for your product, shoot me an email or a DM, I would be happy to consult.