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Question about network effects with new social media/job board platform

The Patriot Way

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Hi all, I haven't been here in a while due to [insert excuses here]. Unfortunately I've wasted a lot of time on developing what should have been an MVP, but I'm a perfectionist and spent a ton of time and money developing a potential SaaS platform. To be honest, I don't have any hard evidence that there is a need for it other than talking to potential customers and scrounging around on reddit and Yelp for similar type platforms and reading the reviews for opportunities to skew value and solve some pain points.

My site is a mix of a social network, job board for seekers and hiring managers, and project management tool (related to my target market's industry). I'm finally ready to start trying to attract users, but I got next to zero conversions on my landing page, which I'm hoping was a result of my mediocre copywriting and Google ads strategy. So I have zero users, although I can gather one or two of my friends (who aren't really a part of this industry, but at least there would be two profiles). Like most platforms of this nature, it depends on network effects. If I manage to get a sign up, the user will be entering a ghost town. Obviously to build a community and hire people/find jobs, there needs to be a sufficient number of people to engage with. I have about 100 Instagram followers on my page that will probably get an alert when I post since it's been so long.

I'm not sure what I'll do next, but right now I'm thinking about trying to get at least 10-20 members onboarded (free registration) organically through real life connections and my Instagram page. After I manage to do that, I would then launch a targeted ad blitz on reddit, Facebook, and Google to just keep trying to get sign ups and hope that the slow expansion of the community will start the embers of engagement. Of course, the potential is there for me to get nothing but white gumballs but I'm hoping I'll at least get some kind of echoes and meowing going on. I have a contact form on the homepage and in the footer to allow users to send feedback, but really I'm just terrified that nobody will have any use for it or people will just say "there's already [similar site] though". At this point I just want to shove it out there and find out one way or another, but I at least want to be somewhat smart about it so I don't throw in the towel too soon if I don't get visitors.
 

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csalvato

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You're taking on a pretty monumental task. First, congratulate yourself that you built a software product from scratch and haven't been paid for it.

Even if it gets no users, that shows a lot of resolve and determination. That's more than most people can do.

The biggest challenge with new tech/software founders is understanding how mature (or embarrassing) your MVP should be.

It sounds like you're facing this problem right now. I hope you take comfort in the fact that you're not alone.

Here's a method I've come to love, that I adapted and executed successfully from Marty Cagan's Inspired: Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love: Marty Cagan: 9781119387503: Amazon.com: Books
  1. Get a list of people in your target market. The bigger the better.
  2. Reach out to them with a cold email or survey request.
  3. In the survey/email, verify the problem you're trying to solve is one of the top 3 problems they want to solve right now.
  4. For those people where it's a problem, try to get 6-10 of them into a small pilot group. Let them know you're developing a product, it probably won't always be free, but it will be designed to specifically solve the problem they hate right now. Let them know if you solve the problem, you're hoping they will tell others about it. (If you can't find 6-10 people, the problem you're solving may be too small/not worth it – consider it failing fast without wasting time/energy on design & engineering).
  5. Perform Design Sprints, creating a prototype each week, and using these pilot users as your testers for a weekly usability test (this is explained in great detail in the Sprint Book).
  6. Once your prototypes get them really excited (my pilot users say things like "WOW this is 10x better than what we are currently doing! I can't wait to use this, when can we start?!"), bring it to life in code.
  7. Launch it to your pilot program, and make it easy for them to refer their friends. Because they collaborated with you to solve the problem, they are more invested and will actually be eager to do so. This kicks off a word-of-mouth virality loop in a powerful way, which is important to a social network like the one you're describing.
Once you get to step 7, you may be surprised that you don't need to advertise at all – you'll more likely need to raise money to grow/develop/scale the product.

Also, I'd reach out to the founders of Doximity, since they just grew a social network for doctors to a tremendous scale (over 1M doctors in the US are on their network, IIRC) within a few years.
 
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Andy Black

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Agreed with @csalvato about looking at all the good you’ve done to date and being proud of your determination.

What benefit is the community to people? You haven’t mentioned why people should join the community. Reread your post and you’ll see it’s mostly inward thinking about your own position and problems. Lift your chin up and look out there at the people you’re trying to help, and see if you can look at things from their perspective.


Some ideas:

1) Can you offer something else that immediately solves a pain point, and have the community as an add-on/bonus? Ideally something they pay for.

Help people. Get paid to help them. Offer the community as a bonus?

A line that course creators often say is that “People come for the course, and stay for the community.” I’m sure that’s true of many people who bought MJ’s books and then found the forum.


2) Another angle is to get email addresses of people looking for something, like an “XYZ job in ABC location”. And *then* try to help them. If you keep getting people signed up looking for the same thing then you’ll get better and better at helping them.




My final advice is to change your goal. You’re not building a community, or a job board.

Get very clear on who you’re helping, what you’re helping me with, why they need that help, why you’re helping them, and only then think about how you’ll do it.

I suspect you’re more focused on the How than the Who at the moment.

Maybe these threads might help:
 

Andy Black

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Oh, and engage people on the phone or a Zoom/Skype call as soon and as often as you can. Don’t hide behind your computer.
 

Andy Black

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Rob Walling’s book “Start Small, Stay Small” is great on Audible.
 
OP
OP
The Patriot Way

The Patriot Way

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FASTLANE INSIDER
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Sep 19, 2017
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Los Angeles, CA
You're taking on a pretty monumental task. First, congratulate yourself that you built a software product from scratch and haven't been paid for it.

Even if it gets no users, that shows a lot of resolve and determination. That's more than most people can do.

The biggest challenge with new tech/software founders is understanding how mature (or embarrassing) your MVP should be.

It sounds like you're facing this problem right now. I hope you take comfort in the fact that you're not alone.

Here's a method I've come to love, that I adapted and executed successfully from Marty Cagan's Inspired: Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love: Marty Cagan: 9781119387503: Amazon.com: Books
  1. Get a list of people in your target market. The bigger the better.
  2. Reach out to them with a cold email or survey request.
  3. In the survey/email, verify the problem you're trying to solve is one of the top 3 problems they want to solve right now.
  4. For those people where it's a problem, try to get 6-10 of them into a small pilot group. Let them know you're developing a product, it probably won't always be free, but it will be designed to specifically solve the problem they hate right now. Let them know if you solve the problem, you're hoping they will tell others about it. (If you can't find 6-10 people, the problem you're solving may be too small/not worth it – consider it failing fast without wasting time/energy on design & engineering).
  5. Perform Design Sprints, creating a prototype each week, and using these pilot users as your testers for a weekly usability test (this is explained in great detail in the Sprint Book).
  6. Once your prototypes get them really excited (my pilot users say things like "WOW this is 10x better than what we are currently doing! I can't wait to use this, when can we start?!"), bring it to life in code.
  7. Launch it to your pilot program, and make it easy for them to refer their friends. Because they collaborated with you to solve the problem, they are more invested and will actually be eager to do so. This kicks off a word-of-mouth virality loop in a powerful way, which is important to a social network like the one you're describing.
Once you get to step 7, you may be surprised that you don't need to advertise at all – you'll more likely need to raise money to grow/develop/scale the product.

Also, I'd reach out to the founders of Doximity, since they just grew a social network for doctors to a tremendous scale (over 1M doctors in the US are on their network, IIRC) within a few years.
Thanks a lot for the encouragement, I learned a lot along the way but probably the most important one is to do more validation first and stop being such a perfectionist. I will definitely check out the Cagan book, hopefully there's a copy at the library. I've had Sprints on my shelf for about 3 years I think haha.

I am fairly confident that I can get 10 people into a private group and try out the website. My platform is pretty niche. It's marketed specifically toward filmmakers and actors, starting out in Los Angeles and hopefully someday expanding into other film markets. As an occasional actor myself, I can speak from firsthand knowledge that people are very willing to try free services that can help us find work and expand our portfolio. Regarding the virality aspect, I've been toying around with adding a "get five of your friends to sign up and get free membership for life" type feature, although I think that may be suited once/if I get traction.

Thank you again for your help!
 
OP
OP
The Patriot Way

The Patriot Way

Contributor
FASTLANE INSIDER
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Sep 19, 2017
29
83
33
Los Angeles, CA
Agreed with @csalvato about looking at all the good you’ve done to date and being proud of your determination.

What benefit is the community to people? You haven’t mentioned why people should join the community. Reread your post and you’ll see it’s mostly inward thinking about your own position and problems. Lift your chin up and look out there at the people you’re trying to help, and see if you can look at things from their perspective.


Some ideas:

1) Can you offer something else that immediately solves a pain point, and have the community as an add-on/bonus? Ideally something they pay for.

Help people. Get paid to help them. Offer the community as a bonus?

A line that course creators often say is that “People come for the course, and stay for the community.” I’m sure that’s true of many people who bought MJ’s books and then found the forum.


2) Another angle is to get email addresses of people looking for something, like an “XYZ job in ABC location”. And *then* try to help them. If you keep getting people signed up looking for the same thing then you’ll get better and better at helping them.




My final advice is to change your goal. You’re not building a community, or a job board.

Get very clear on who you’re helping, what you’re helping me with, why they need that help, why you’re helping them, and only then think about how you’ll do it.

I suspect you’re more focused on the How than the Who at the moment.

Maybe these threads might help:
Actually I started this platform to scratch my own itch - I found that my community (specifically, independent filmmakers and other creatives) could be much better served than we currently are by the legacy companies. So my target market's needs are my needs as well. Many of the complaints I see are very familiar to me. I expect to get a lot of "yeah yeah, how is this different from MySpace?" type pushback but I'm convinced that there is an opening for a paradigm shift for this relatively small space.

If people find my platform useful and helps solve some of the pain points out there, I plan to focus my energy on the most beneficial aspects and develop them into something that's actually worth paying for. I've been thinking about adding a blog to the site, although I'm not quite sure if that's what people would want. It's an idea though. The thing is that the job board can't exist without a community and vice versa. The only standalone technology (using that word only in the loosest sense) is the project management module, which is useful, but not enough to stand on its own.

I interact with potential users pretty regularly on other forums, I've been thinking about how to approach them without spamming people. It was probably a mistake not to talk to people before building the MVP, but I felt confident enough that I was a good customer avatar. I'm a huge introvert so it's hard for me to start up conversations with people like that.

I will read those threads tonight, thank you. And I'll check out the Start Small book as well - been getting into audiobooks lately so it might be at the library.
 

Andy Black

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the job board can't exist without a community and vice versa.
This looks like a limiting belief to me.

Can a job board exist without a community? What if you got contact details of people searching for jobs from Google?

Can a community exist without a job board? Most communities don’t have job boards.

Keep an eye out for limiting beliefs.
 

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