School’s Out

A few years ago when I started working on a social voice service I thought a potential customer segment was college students. I spoke to around 120 students to test the concept. During that time I learned a lot about design and UX but also realized that this segment did not have the problems I thought. College students as a segment was invalidated but I was struck by how I was able to easily get access to people on or near campus.

Recently, while running a Startup Weekend-like hackathon we gave teams themes to build for. Since Customer Development was required, they went out to test their hypotheses.

Two days later I was surprised to see that most of the teams built for and tested with college students.

Nothing in particular would have led them to this segment. But many of them had the same idea. In general, they also did more interviews and made more progress in learning than teams that chose other segments.

But apart from competitions, should startups test their real products with college students? Among the good reasons to test with college students: startups know how to find them, accessibility is pretty easy, they exist in large numbers and they’re willing to stop and talk. They will forget you after you make mistakes interviewing them. The bad reasons: you’re probably not really building a solution for them.

Beyond college students, I see similarities with startups that develop for any market that is easily reached compared to those who deal with difficult to reach markets. I’ve seen teams who are building something valuable spend a lot of time just trying to get in front of people. And I’ve seen other teams find creative approaches to reaching their markets.
In an artificial environment like a fake two-day project, going with an easily reached segment can be smart. But for a startup building something real over time, it’s better to figure out who your segment is.

The faster you do this, the faster you’ll learn if you’re on to something.

Filed in: Interviewing