Last January, I started working on my new project - I have an ambitious goal to change the way people rent and rent out a property. I am building it for a few months already and would like to share some insights I get during that time. The posts will be organized in a series, released each Monday, every time with a new theme and full of my learning.

Today I will talk about initial project validation and customers interview because with this project, and I decided to be very frugal and make as much as possible based on the rules that so often got neglected. The biggest and most important one is - "Validate before you build it!"

In theory, it sounds quite easy, and usually, everyone agrees that it is the right way to do a startup. However, so many projects fail because the founders did not follow this simple rule and build something no one wants.

Initial validation

I started my journey with pitching my idea to all my friends and relatives. Most of them were so excited about it that they even offered some help. I have never seen anything similar to any previous idea. One of my smartest friends challenges it quite a bit just to let me figure out all the corner cases better and build a comprehensive vision. Big thanks go to Kostya. I still remember that day, before the chat with my friends this idea was a Plan B, I didn't realize the potential behind it, so the was no rush to build it, keep probing the soil around. That evening I just wrote "DIRECTION CHANGE" in big red letters over my daily schedule in a daily planner.

Focus on customers

Stick to the book was my only plan, I had to test if the approach is working or "Lean" is just a buzzword. I knew for sure I have to check the idea first. However, there I am, fulltime employed, and I can't work on my project during regular working hours. The issue occupied my brain for a couple of days because I didn't know how to do interviews with customers, especially if it had to be done outside of the regular hours.

First customers interviews

At the end of January, Estonian city - Tartu host annual conference - "sTARTUp day," so I had a chance to chat with a bunch of like-minded folks, and ask if they would use my service. Over the lunch, I had a chat with a few folks who rent out their property, so I had a chance to validate my idea with potential landlords. Overall, people were intrigued, and we exchanged contacts so I could ping them on later stages of development.
Later on that day, I met an old friend of mine who just relocated back from New York City and had to face all the issues of the rental market. Insights from him hone the idea and make it more robust.

Make customer research scale

It was clear for me - I stumbled upon something interesting, but the number of people I talked with was not statistically significant anyhow. I had to change my approach somehow if I want to be sure if the problem even exists.
Early on, I realized that I know nothing about the fact of how to do customer interviews. Luckily there are quite a lot of resources out there. My favorite is a summary from the "The Mom Test" book. I didn't read the full text, and in my case, the book summary was a sufficient source of information; however, maybe I will come back to it later on.
While keeping asking my self how to get more data, I realize that it should be possible to create a survey and ask a set of questions to check the issues people are facing I need to start working on the solution to it. The best possible platform for quizzes I found out was Typeform. Typeform made changes to the pricing system at some point and became quite expensive. My questionnaire was quite complicated, so I had to use the paid version, it cost me around 50 euro for a month, but it made me sober and focused on fast research. However, this approach brought a new challenge, where can I get enough people who are willing to share their struggles with me. Suddenly I got struck with an idea - I could try to leverage my network somehow.
I build a quiz and ask my British friend to check out the grammar and overall correctness of the question, another friend of mine, was very helpful and shared a link to my questionnaire in his work chat. This simple approach helps me collect the necessary amount of data and nail down what exactly is broken and get an initial plan on the features of my product. Huge thanks to Sam and Ivan.


There are always will be "obstacles" on a path, but most of them have clever detours. In my case I had severe restrictions on researching during the regular working hours, I was unable to chat with plenty of people, and still, there was a way to gather a sufficient amount of data and start work on the project.

In the next series

Subscribe to my newsletter, and you will get the next post from my startup diary. Next time we will talk about how I stepped away from the "Validate before you build it!" formula and paid a significant price on it.