Trying to validate a problem before building a solution I'm falling in love with

As I mentioned in a previous post (you can read it here), I’m wondering if I should build or validate an app idea I’ve been thinking about during the last 4 weeks.

After thinking about some of the received feedback and listening to this great interview with Brecht Palombo on ConversionAid, I’ve decided to start by interviewing potential customers about the problem I’m trying to solve.

One of the customer personas I’m targeting are Shopify store owners running a profitable store, so I’ve written around 50 cold emails to Shopify store owners asking them to talk over Skype.

The other customer personas I would like to work with are small SAAS companies.

How would you approach this type of customer when the goal is to interview them about how they manage their customer support service?

Call them.

If it is something they really care about, they will talk to you. If no one will take 2 minutes to talk to you, that tells you something.

Nobody likes cold calling. But I did a bit of it in the early days of PerfectTablePlan and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I got some really useful feedback. I wasn’t pushy and no-one was rude or aggressive back.


Another possibility is to find a conference that these sort of people will be at and arrange an appointment to talk to them at the conference. Don’t got and try to pitch to them at their stall - you might get thrown out by security.

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Thanks @Andy :wink:

After the initial batch of 50 cold emails, I’ve sent around 75 more to different Shopify store owners that are paying for customer service apps.

I found these leads looking at Shopify app store reviews for these types of apps.

This let me start a few interesting conversations over email.

Asking to chat over Skype didn’t work.

I’ve also asked on Quora (bad results) and Reddit (better results).

In general, I have to admit that I’m a bit frustrated with how slow the process is and how difficult it is to see any pattern in the feedback.

I’m wondering (again) if I should just build a simple version of the product and just iterate from that.

Right now, I feel it will be faster and more efficient.

Also, I think I need to be motivated with a vision of a product idea to get the required energy the keep pushing.

What I’m feeling made me remember what I read in this @adii’s post.

@CescVilanova Have you tried messaging any of the people who responded on Reddit? They might be willing to jump on Skype with you.

Hey @CescVilanova, would you mind sharing the email you are sending out? From your Reddit post it sounds like you aren’t being specific enough. Instead of asking “What problems do you have with customers?” you should be asking something more along the lines of “Do you hate dealing with rude customers?” (or whatever angle you decide to take it).

That is my preferred approach for software products. Other validation approaches I have tried for products have never resulted in a clearer answer to ‘will enough people pay for this’ than ‘maybe’. But it did give me some pointers on things I shouldn’t do (e.g. go try to sell to marquee hire companies or go after the Asian wedding market).

Services is different. I validated my microISV training course by getting enough people to pay a deposit before I even started writing the course.

That’s not a cold call. A cold call is where you just call them with no previous contact.

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@jasonforrest No, I haven’t tried that. Reading their initial feedback I assumed they weren’t suffering the problem I’m trying to solve. I shouldn’t assume things that fast, probably.

@lucaspiller Of course. First, I sent an email like this.


My name is Cesc Vilanova and I’m a software entrepreneur based in Barcelona.

I just read your review about {name of the customer service app} in the Shopify app store.

I’m researching about how successful Shopify stores manage their customer support.

More particularly, I’m trying to identify parts of the process that can be improved.

I’m specially interested in companies that value customer support, like yours.

I have a couple of questions that you could respond over email in a few minutes.

Could you help me with my research?

Thanks a lot for your time!



When people agreed to help, I sent them this other email:

Great, these are the 2 questions:

  1. What’s the most frustrating thing about customer support? Why?
  2. Do you research who are the people getting in touch before replying to them? Why?

Thanks again!


Question 1 tries to understand how they feel about customer support in general.

Question 2 tries to validate if the “job” I’m trying to improve with my product (knowing more people getting in touch via email) is something they do or not.

@Andy You’re right. I’m still hesitant to cold call. I feel it’s more natural (and easier for me) to start a conversation over email and only ask to jump on the phone/Skype when the prospect shows initial interest in the problem.

I understand. Nobody (sane) enjoys cold calling. But it might be the best way to get some honest feedback.

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Hi Cesc – firstly I’m really glad that you enjoyed the interview that I did with Brecht on the ConversionAid podcast. He’s a great guy and has a terrific story.

I wanted to make a couple of suggestions which I thought may help you get a better response rate with your emails. I’ve personally tried this approach (after speaking with Ash Maurya from Running Lean) and I’d say that I had a good number of people who agreed to chat with me on the phone. I’m not saying it’s THE way to do this and your market may be different so might not work as well.

  1. Firstly, I never cold called. I always sent a cold email first asking for time on the phone.

  2. I think your mail is great, but I’d probably change a few things:

a) Instead of saying “Could you help me with my research?”, I’d suggest something like “I’d love to get 10 minutes of your time on the phone/Skype to better understand how you deal with your customer support”, which turns this from being about you, into a conversation about them. People love to talk about themselves. :smile:

b) Most people will think that you’re trying to sell them something. So I explicitly ended the mail with this “I’m not selling anything – I’m just looking for advice. Please let me know if you’re willing to talk to me.” I seemed to get more responses when I added this and people also love being perceived as a expert i.e. giving advice.

  1. On your second mail (especially your question 2 – suggests that you already have a product idea in mind and are looking for them to validate it). That might not be true – it’s just the way it came across to me. But if you do have a solution in mind, I’d try to get that out of your mind for this conversation and just explore #1 with them i.e. what’s most frustrating. That will give you a lot more insights into pain points and may even identify a better opportunity than the one you may be thinking of right now.

Anyway, I hope that helps.


Over the last year of trying things & adjusting to what seemed to be working (and comfortable for me), I’ve ended up with the same approach as @omerkhan. I always email first. I ask for a specific (small) amount of time on the phone, and tell them exactly what I want to learn about.

Some people still won’t engage you, which is fine, but the ones who are willing to help have clear idea of what they’re getting into, and will usually say yes.

I also have really good luck with this approach when I’m being introduced to a friend of someone I’ve already talked with. So when I do talk with someone, I always mention at the end of the call – that if they know anyone else who’d be willing to share their experiences with me, I’d love an email intro. Just about everyone I’ve asked has been happy to do this, and those additional connections are super productive.

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Thanks @omerkhan, this is really useful. I totally agree with your suggestions.

About the question 2 in my second email, I actually have a product idea in mind :wink:

The goal of the first question is try to detect if there’s a common pain point I’m not aware of, and which can point me towards a better idea than the one I have.

The goal of the second question is trying to validate or invalidate if the problem I’m trying to solve with my actual idea exists or not.

The reason why I’m doing this after having an idea is that I’m interested in building a certain type of solution (subscription based, minimal interface, really easy to test…).

So, what I’m trying to do right now is to came out with ideas that fit these restrictions, and then try to validate them.

In other words, at least at this moment, I’m not happy with finding a painful problem which solution doesn’t fit with the type of solution I want to build.