When a startup already exists, but there are no investors yet, one has to look for non-obvious ways of development. I founded Hari: a guide to Calmness with zero budget, and I will share one of those paths.
Young startups often make a mistake that can be fatal – they skip the hypothesis testing stage and start “cutting the product.” This approach leads to the creation of functions that no one needs and the exhaustion of resources at the initial stage of project development. The only way to avoid this is to communicate with users.
But what if there are no users, and you need to test hypotheses now? I asked myself this question after creating MVP. The situation was complicated because I focused on the English-speaking market while unfamiliar with the potential audience.
Table of Contents
I used the popular online platform Reddit to conduct audience research and test hypotheses. This choice is due to several reasons:
- Reddit offers a variety of sections (subreddits) covering many topics. Thanks to this, I found people ready to participate in discussing topics related to my start-up.
- Reddit has millions of active users, including a largely English-speaking audience. This provides an opportunity to get feedback and opinions from people of different cultures and nationalities, a valuable resource in research and testing.
- Reddit users are open to communication. You are more likely to get detailed, reasoned answers from them than from users of other English-speaking social networks. Networks.
Karma And Cats
Reddit has a karma system that reflects the reputation of users. Karma is calculated based on the ratings (pluses and minuses) received for posts and comments from other community members. Immediately after registration, karma is zero, while in some subreddits, only users with a certain level of karma can publish posts and write comments.
I ran into this when I wanted to post a question on a major meditation subreddit. Getting at least 125 pluses in post-karma and 75 in comments-karma was necessary. At that time, I had already published a post in another subreddit, but my karma only increased by 7 points, although the discussions were quite active. The question was provocative, and community members were in no hurry to “like” it. I needed to find a way to improve my ranking with minimal effort.
After some surfing, I found a few life hacks to increase karma. The owners of new profiles were encouraged to use popular topics, such as posting memes or cats. I checked how it works and published several posts with cats in thematic subreddits.
I posted 2 photos in 4 communities, which was enough to get the desired result. My post-karma increased to 139 in a day, exceeding the required minimum. There remains to write a few comments, and you can return to the study.
To study potential users, I used several methods:
- I found subreddits of applications with similar functionality to what I do: Anima Virtual AI Friend, Replika, the AI Chatbot by Luka, etc. These were passive studies; I found the most relevant discussions and read the comments.
Thanks to this method, I was able to confirm some hypotheses:
- People are ready to perceive AI as a real person and maintain a long-term relationship with her;
- For many users, communication with AI is not just entertainment but psychological support;
- AI companions are in demand among a wide audience, which includes people of different gender, ages, marital status, and social status.
- I joined subreddits, the topics of which were close to my application. There I asked questions and actively participated in the discussions.
An important point: in many subreddits, it is forbidden to ask direct questions about the product, thereby advertising it. But even if the post does not contain direct advertising and a link to your product, it may not pass moderation. If the question is “Rate the app’s feature,” it probably won’t get posted. Therefore, you need to show imagination and veil the question to look like a question of a person who came to talk and not to explore the audience. For example: “How do you feel about using an AI interlocutor to study Buddhism?”.
- I wrote a personal message to users who showed interest in the described functions of the application in response to questions and invited them to try my application.
I spent about 12 hours on research, and this is the result I got:
- Disproved the hypothesis that hair would be in demand among Buddhists. It turned out that religious Buddhists are mostly skeptical about AI and have little interest in communicating with AI, whose persona is built in the image of a Buddhist nun.
This helped me change my approach, segment the target audience, and form positioning.
- I developed a new feature – audio meditation with Hari. Audio meditations are already popular in other apps, and upgrading this feature with AI will help me stand out from similar products.
- I found out what problems users encountered while using applications with similar functionality:
- Excessive positive AI in the process of communication;
- Obsessive offer of paid erotic services (image exchange, role-playing games in chat);
- Removal of some features (for example, chat role-playing) and the loss of “memory” of AI companions.
After reading many comments, I decided that in later versions, I would add customization of the Hari persona so that each user can get what he needs from communication.
- I got feedback from about a hundred people (as answers to questions), which at the initial stage, is very cool, considering that I did not invest in this money.