Customers who say “I’ll buy that” and then don’t

If there is only one piece of advice to listen to about startups, it is to get customers before you do any work. You don’t waste any time building something people don’t want this way. You also get to try a lot of ideas in a short amount of time, giving you more chances to create something really interesting.

But how do you get people to commit to something you didn’t even make yet? How would you reply If I asked for your opinion on a painting I didn’t make yet?

I’ll make a good pitch.

“It’s going to be really colorful and it will have a kitten riding a dinosaur.”

Maybe you’ll be skeptical I can even paint. You look up my online presence and find I haven’t posted a single painting ever. I’ve never even touched a brush for all you know.

Maybe you think the painting is impossible. I describe these changing colors that don’t even exist.

This is all good feedback. I go back and make a convincing pitch. I show you the start of the painting and a CGI of the finished product in the video.

Now you are saying “That sounds cool! I would definitely put this up in my room. Let me know when you’re finished.”

That’s all I needed to hear right? I’ll even be safe and make sure to get 10 more people to say the same thing before I start. Some of them even say I am going to be so rich with this.

And then I run off and actually make the painting over 6 months. I come back and…

no one buys.

What happened?

Half the people are still saying it is a great idea. It will make a lot of money, but they don’t see themselves buying it right now. The other half don’t respond anymore.

Back to the drawing board. People are terrible judges of others and even themselves. You can’t blame them. Any pitch can sound awesome, but who actually will put their money down? It is hard to know what someone will do up until they do it.

This happened to me on even larger scale before.

I decided I was going to make a day pass app for gyms. I got tons of people who said it was a great idea. I got a popular reddit post I can’t seem to find now. The front page on product hunt. Everyone said I was going to be rich and they knew a ton of people who would use this. But when I launched, not a SINGLE one ended up being a paying user.

Here is the priority of how I would gauge real interest:

1. Get their credit card info.

Cash is king. Preorders preorders preorders.

Is Kickstarter even trustworthy anymore? Aren’t most products physically impossible to produce and made by Russian scammers? Maybe Patreon is the new kickstarter now. Who knows. But figure out a way to offer enough proof or value that someone feels comfortable giving their credit card information into a form.

This is hard though. It is often a campaign in itself. I worked with a lot of very successful Kickstarters and they spent over a year simply gathering emails so they could have a successful Kickstarter launch. Seems like an awful lot of work to do before even getting to a real launch!

2. Put out something small and incomplete and offer a fake paid upgrade.

Put out something small. It has to take under a month to push. Ideally, a week or less even. Post this around and see if you get enough interest. Have the free version out but some fake buttons for a paid upgrade.

It does not even need to collect credit card information. Just have it notify you when someone attempts to click it. At the very least you’ll get immediate feedback and only waste a month instead of half a year.

3. Email lists are the best substitute for credit cards.

Have your crappy demo up and just start collecting emails. People are so protective of their emails, I think it has actually become a good indicator they are interested. If you are lucky, you might be able to create an active Slack or Discord channel. Maybe you could even turn it into a small Patreon.

Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, App of the month followers can work for some people. Just know emails are one of the only things you can control.

Phone numbers and addresses are good as well, but much more commitment to ask of someone while providing the same or worse ability to close a sale. What are you going to do, mail them a link to your purchase page?