When you have your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) ready, the obvious next step is to put it in the hands of real users. A great way to start is to demo it "in real life” to potential customers: to find potential customers, to go to their office, to show your MVP, and to let them try it.
This is what we did at Front before we even started trying to find users online. Here are our experiences on developing and testing our MVP, and some tips on how to optimize your demo cycle.
To physically go to a prospect office to demo your MVP is definitely not a scalable way of selling your SaaS (but using a shared inbox is). But giving live demonstrations provide great benefits at the beginning:
You are sure that your user will actually see and try your minimum viable product.
You can see his reactions live whether they are expressed intentionally (verbal feedback) or not (face expressions).
You can discuss in details his problems and see how you can solve these pain points with your product.
You improve your pitch. It’s very important to be able to pitch seamlessly your product and nothing is better than “going on the field” to test it.
The answer for when to start giving demos of your MVP really depends on the industry you are targeting, the profile of your potential customers and yourself. The short answer is: the sooner the better.
Some people starting demoing their MVP when it’s still a static website (wireframes, powerpoint slides, build with a cms etc…). Others prefer to have a minimum set of “working” features to demo. Keep in mind that the sooner you get some feedback, the faster you can validate or iterate on your ideas. So don’t be afraid to show what you’ve built: it can only help you improve. We did it after just a couple of weeks.
You MUST demo your product only to potential customers/users. Forget the rest. There are two types of potential customers:
The ones you know personally (your friends, your close network etc.)
The ones you don’t know
Demoing your MVP to your friends or close network is not a bad thing, however you should not only target these people. The first danger is that you won’t get “real” feedback because these people “like” you.
The second danger is related to human psychology. By accepting a demo request, people in your network are not in the position of a customer looking for a solution, but more in the position of a person doing you a favor. Human relationships are built on favors. Never forget that.
Ask people in your close network if they know potential customers for you. They will probably be more than happy to make introductions for you (second or third degree connections are fantastic).
Directly contact companies that you think might be interested in your product.
You can always ask your close network (friends, business partners, your incubator, the boss of your husband or wife) for second degree contacts, so there is no excuse not to find at least a few potential customers.
For our campaign we contacted both targets. We started with companies in our close network (like Mailjet, Textmaster, and mention, which are part of the same startup studio as us), and then we showed it to companies we could reach through introductions.
In terms of numbers, after a dozen face-to-face meetings, we saw the same feedback again and again. So for each big iteration of our product, between 10 and 15 meetings were enough to have strong indications on where we were.
Now comes the day when you are actually demoing your MVP to potential customers. We won’t give you advice on how to organize it, but we want to share some tips we learned in the process:
The truth is that you are not here to talk about your product. You are here to talk about how you can help your customer with your product.
Ask them about their pain points and listen carefully. These demso are gold mines to really understand the business problems you want to solve.
Use paper and pen to collect feedback (faster than your iPad or computer).
When you let them try your MVP, don’t guide them. Let them experiment with your product and hit bottlenecks. Help them only when they are stuck.
Pay attention to details (expressions of the face, the eyes, the eyebrows, the way they use the mouse, where they click etc…). This feedbacks is as important as verbal feedback.
Embrace negative feedback. You are not here to convince your user that he is wrong. Just nod your head and explore deeper why they are not convinced by your approach.
Enjoy positive feedback. That's always cool too.
Ask if they would pay for such a solution, and if so, how much.
Prepare a letter of intent before the demo, and if the person says yes to #8 ask him to sign it (just to see his reaction, don’t actually force him :-)).
The demos themselves are only half the work. The other half comes later, when you have to: follow some metrics, organize and communicate the feedback to the team, and finally, keep the people you’ve seen in the loop.
A really interesting thing to do is to monitor the usage of your MVP the days after you’ve done the demo. The most basic metric to follow is if the user goes back on your MVP or not. Depending on your product you can follow a bunch of other metrics. For example at Front for each user we’ve looked at: the repeating rate (does the user come back by himself or not), at the number of people invited (since we are a collaborative tool) and finally how many group addresses he plugged.
Since it’s an MVP don’t expect high numbers but you can have some surprises so it is worth looking at some of them (keep it simple).
This part is probably underestimated but to properly write down the feedback collected, to organize them and finally to communicate them to your team take a certain amount of time…
Concerning Front, after each demo we sat down to write a complete report. We decided beforehand to use a “mini framework” for these reports: basic information about the company, which software they use to handle their group addresses, which are the main pain points concerning their usage, the feedbacks about our product (from UX to UI). We really suggest you to adopt a structure and to stick with it. It will be easier to write these reports and also easier to read them.
We chose to write them down in Google Docs and organize the different reports in a simple Google Drive folder. Keep it simple and use cloud solutions: it's better for sharing and commenting between teammates.
“Real life” demos are a great way to build real relationships with your first users. Do yourself a favor and create a special mailing list with their email addresses, and keep them informed when you have product and business updates.
By creating a real bond with your first users, you can benefit later from their advice or from introductions to other potential clients. Don’t forget that it’s not only about technology. It’s also about building real human connections!