Being tired of doing stuff that turned out to be far from what users actually need, I think now it's time to ask potential users first (think lean startup mantra) before doing anything.
The idea I'm trying to pursue is nothing new (hence I know that there is market), but I couldn't find competing products here in Russia, so this is both bad and good.
Now, just asking potential customers "would you like this kind of software that would allow you to do such and such" feels wrong to me because users don't actually know what they want and need. This calls for either a semi-working product or a series of screen mockups for them to at least get a feeling of what is actually proposed.
Next, is how do I ask and how do I present myself. With my target users generally being not quite techincal (musicians, for that matter), do I just say "I'm writing a webapp that would allow you to do this and that other thing and will look like this. Are you interested?" or be more serious?
Finally, is it OK to raise a question of whether they would pay for this kind of app? I understand that if nobody is willing to pay there's no reason for me to start at all, but it feels downright greedy to ask "how much would you pay for this?"
Here's a "customer pitch" what I came up with (not disclosing business specifics):
Hello!Will this do or are there ways to improve on the message and/or wording?
My name is Anton and I'm writing to you to get your advice and your perspective on a web-based application I'm starting.
You being a musician (description of pain point follows). These are the problems I'm trying to solve. More specifically, this application will allow you and your band members to (list of awesome key features).
And here's what I'm asking you. Are you interested in this kind of application? If yes, would you pay to use it (think starting 10$ a month), and if no -- why?
Thanks a lot!
Anton.. GREAT Question.
Here's what I use to do market research.
It's just a twist on what you suggested. I would call key players in the market and rather have a "pitch" ready, I would just have a conversation with them about their problems and pain points. Remove all reference to the fact that you have any ideas for products or you have any idea what their real problems are.
Here's how it would go..
Hi _, As you are a respected musician in _ __ , I'd like toBe really ready to listen.. take loads of notes.. ask open ended questions.
speak with you for a few minutes and get your help and advice on
Make sure you do your research before hand and have plenty of questions lined up.
People love to be asked for advice (I think you got that already), and will talk for hours if they think their opinion will help (Isn't that what I'm doing here... LOL)
Keep this conversation going for as long as you can... really get them to talk.
IF (and it's a BIG IF) at the end of that part if you feel the idea you have is applicable ask them about it. Ask them how much they would pay. Ask them what features they would like. etc.
What usually happens is at the end of conversations is this person will say.. "So when can I buy".
I would set up a pre-launch page for your idea. Make sure you have a "Keep in touch" field for people to enter their email address and be notified when it goes live. As long as you have enough information on the launch page, then you will validate your idea.
As far as information on the page, you need to include anything you want validated, but don't go over the top. The more information on the page, the harder it is to know what is not working (ie. only if everything is good will they sign up). It may be a case where you just describe what the product is, and also mention that it will be a monthly subscription (or whatever your pricing model is). I wouldn't try to validate the actual price yet, it sounds too soon for that.
http://launchrock.com/ is a popular service for setting up the launch page. It has nice integration that lets your signups to share it socially.