I'm a chef by trade. About two years ago I had an idea to connect people with professional chefs through instant messaging. Starting completely from scratch with no business/coding experience I moved from Boston to Palo Alto to find a developer. I was successful, and after I felt comfortable enough hat we were on the same page with the company, I moved back to Boston. We are planning to launch at the end of February and I'm currently starting my customer research. How can I get the most out of this with accurate, crucial information about my target segment?
As Nick said, you did step 2 before step 1. That out of the way, here is what I would do if I were in your position.
You want to market to people who want to meet and talk to professional chefs via chat online. How about you find blogs and forums where people do just that? Look for chef's blogs and see what kind of following they have, read the comments that are made there.
Good thing is that you can look at usernames on blog comments. Copy their username and paste them in Google (would feel like a stalker at this point) see where else they hang out. Keep all the data in a spreadsheet. Do that for several websites and draw a conclusion. You probably will be able to find a Facebook profile for most of those contributors which can help you do some more market research about where he/she is based, age group and so forth.
There will be communities that has a potential amount of users to tap into, do what I said about the blog comments (same steps apply).
One more thing is visit diet blogs and forums and do the same there as well! Think about it, if someone wants to improve their diet, wouldn't they want to talk to a chef that can tell them about a tasty, yet healthy meal?
Facebook will be a great tool for you, develop a test version (and only the test version smarty pants!) for your application and make a Facebook page, share that with all those people who you researched, you will have some success, mostly failure and rejection. Deal with those who convert (who actually checkout your service) and start testing your application with them! Most likely they are the type of people that want to actually help bring up a new software/community and actually want to be the first adopters. Use that to your advantage, see what works and what is not needed on your test version and keep building on that.
If you build it, they will come. (As long as it = something they want, not something you think they want). Read The Lean startup by Eric Ries and half your battle will be won when you read the end of the book. Just like how I told you everything here, you will be devise all that yourself for anything else you do regarding this business whether it is marketing or design!
Best of luck.
Agree with BjargavPatel (and others here) - customer development (in your case) the next step - yes, you should have done it first, but I (and likely most of us here) have made the same mistake before - so don't get too depressed about it.
The lean startup is definitely a good read. Running lean (Ash Maurya) builds on the Ries book and provides a bit more "how to implement" guidance. Reading both would likely get your customer development on track and provide some actionable information.
Best of luck!
If I were you I would use a bulldozer approach and go door to door and hand them your business card. On your business card I'd make sure you have your IM page and even better your CheckIM page. Then when you hand out your card explain to them how to use your website.
Do the same thing with mass mailing to chefs only. For the mailing approach you will need something to entice them to your page... maybe some recipes or how to save money as a chef. And find out more on the web site.
It seems that you have made the classic "mistake" of building something before talking to the customer. If so, this means you're naturally inclined to sell them your product. You probably won't succeed.
How can I get the most out of this with accurate, crucial information about my target segment?Talk to them. Talk to them a lot. Ask them questions. Listen to their answers. Find their problem. Understand the problem. Fix the problem. Enable them buy your solution.