My First Experiment: How I’m using Typeform to build a consumer utility app
Using a Typeform survey to validate a problem and measure the market’s desire to solve it
Last week I asked you to help me avoid self-deception in my first experiment by taking the Celi survey.
To the 314 of you that did, thank you.
To the 1,910 of you that haven’t, you still can. (Take the Celi survey)
But, do so now because the content below will spoil your survey experience and responses.
In November I had a problem.
Actually, I had the same problem four times.
This problem was repeated twice in December.
Then in early January, I solved it.
How I solved it excited me. The solution, Celi, saved me time, was repeatable, and eliminated human error. It was so exciting that I started considering how to build Celi for public use. I went so far as to develop a thesis about Celi’s impact: it will nudge us into more meaningful contact, define what next-gen friendship looks like, and eliminate the need for a Facebook account.
How Celi began is how the most successful consumer businesses begin.
In How to kickstart and scale a consumer business, Lenny Rachitsky, dug into how 50 of today’s most successful consumer businesses originally came up with their startup idea. Based on his research, he found there are only five common strategies for coming up with a great startup idea. Celi fulfills three of them:
Paying attention to your own problems and solving them
Paying attention to your curiosity and tinkering
Paying attention to what’s already working and doubling down
In that same article, Lenny acknowledges that the largest chunk of successful consumer companies emerged from founders who were simply solving their own problems — and then realizing that their solution was valuable to others. A confirmation of Celi’s origination arc.
Experience has taught me that excitement can be deceiving and the importance of market validation prior to investing resources into a build.
For my next act, I wanted to take a page out of my future peer Doordash’s book by talking to potential users and heed the advice of Todd Jackson, a seed-stage investor at First Round Capital.
In How to validate your startup idea Todd encourages founders to “Start with a problem you’ve experienced firsthand and figure out if enough other people have the same problem.”
I had a recurring problem in my life that Celi solved, but I had no idea if anyone else had this problem or if they wanted to solve it.
Enter the Celi survey.
The goal of the Celi survey is to confirm the existence of a problem and measure the desire to solve it. The Celi survey is also an opportunity to source feedback for important features, display traction by securing beta user commitments, and discover any in-network capital for pre-seed investment consideration.
Prior to publishing the Celi survey, I read Rob Fitzpatrick’s The Mom Test and learned how to remove leading questions that influence responses and how to risk killing my idea.
“Every time you talk with someone”, Rob writes “you should be asking at least one question which has the potential to destroy your currently imagined business. You can tell it’s an important question when its answer could completely change or disprove your business.”
Seeking confirmation without the risk of destroying Celi would be a reckless exercise in comfort and irresponsible. Doing so would be an act of self-deception, which Heraclitus called an awful disease.
I want to avoid this. I want to overcome my Oiesis, self-deception, or arrogant and unchallenged opinion, and hold my idea up to hard scrutiny. I want to question my own instincts, patterns, and assumptions about Celi, and the Celi survey is my chance.
By now, if you still haven’t taken the survey this is your final chance. If you continue reading without completing the Celi survey, I ask that you never take the survey. Once you know the why behind each question, your response will have no value.
For those who have taken the Celi survey, thank you. You will forever be part of the origination story of the consumer utility solution that was built in opposition to social media, strengthens your meaningful relationships, and finally lets you delete Facebook.
Every question I asked in the Celi survey and why
As I build Celi, it’s my intent to document decisions and the build in In Public. First up is detailing every question I asked in the Celi survey and why.
The landing page has three core items. The first is an expression of gratitude. By taking this survey you are helping me avoid self-deception and providing me the opportunity to succeed. For that, I am grateful.
Displaying the time to complete the survey is an attempt to increase conversions by signaling low effort. Displaying the number of people who have already completed the survey is social proof. Also known as the bandwagon effect, this incentivizes action as people adopt beliefs in proportion to others who have already done so. The display of data is also a copywriting practice adopted from Amazon where it’s encouraged to replace adjectives with data.
Question 1: How do you remember people’s birthdays?
The goal of this question is to crowdsource Celi’s competition, expand my competitive analysis, and make sure Celi is built with clear advantages to current solutions.
Question 2: Have you ever forgotten someone’s birthday?
This is my first “Kill the company” question. Here I am trying to confirm the existence of a problem, forgetting birthdays. If the majority of participants reply “No” then this problem is unique to me and completely disproves Celi. Fortunately, 91.6% of participants have confirmed the existence of this problem so far.
(Participants that answered No skip the next three questions.)
Question 3: How did you feel and how did forgetting their birthday impact your relationship with this person?
This question is an attempt to form an emotional connection to what happened when a participant experienced this problem. Reflecting on this question, it assumes a participant felt something and should be deleted. At best, I’ll be able to use the responses from this for marketing materials or emotional branding.
Question 4: How have you tried to solve the problem of forgetting birthdays in the past?
By this question, I know the problem exists and now need to measure how important it is to solve. If participants haven’t tried to solve the problem or looked for a solution, I can conclude that this problem isn’t worth solving, is a problem we tolerate, and that chances are high I won’t be able to sell participants a solution. This question has the potential to destroy my currently imagined business. To date, 69.4% of participants have tried and failed to solve this problem.
Question 5: How important is solving the problem of forgetting birthdays to you?
Like the above, this question measures how important the problem of forgetting birthdays is to a participant. By using a scale question, I can quickly measure how important solving this problem is to participants. This question too has the potential to destroy my currently imagined business. To date, participants rank solving the problem of forgetting birthdays a 2.64 out of 5.
Question 6: What are the most important annually occurring dates of your year?
With the first of my two problems confirmed, I’m now building out Celi’s Beyond the Birthday thesis. My most important annual occurring dates are my sobriety date and the remembrance dates for my Uncle Bobby and Nonno. I want to know what these dates are for other people. I also have to be disciplined and not provide any hints such as anniversary, career-related, personal milestones, etc. I want to see where participants' minds go, without influence.
Question 7: How do you remember your friend’s important annual life dates?
Just like Question 1, I want to crowdsource Celi’s competition, expand my competitive analysis, and make sure Celi has clear advantages to current solutions.
Question 8: Have you ever forgotten a friend’s important life date?
This is my 4th “Kill the company” question. Here I am trying to confirm the existence of my second problem, forgetting a friend’s important life dates. If the majority of participants reply “No” then this problem is unique to me and completely disproves Celi. Fortunately, 72.14% of participants have confirmed the existence of this problem so far.
(Participants that answered No skip the next three questions.)
Question 9: How did you feel and how did forgetting this occasion impact your relationship with this person?
Like Question 3, this is an attempt to form an emotional connection to what happened when a participant experienced this problem and should have been deleted. At best, I’ll be able to use the responses from this for marketing materials or emotional branding in an attempt to engage with potential users.
Question 10: How have you tried to solve the problem of forgetting your friend’s important life dates in the past?
By this question, I know the problem of forgetting a friend’s important life date exists and now I want to measure how important it is to solve. If participants haven’t tried to solve the problem or looked for a solution, I can conclude that this problem isn’t worth solving, is a problem we tolerate, and that chances are high I won’t be able to sell participants a solution. This question has the potential to destroy my currently imagined business. To date, 38.59% of participants have tried and failed to solve this problem.
Question 11: How important is solving the problem of forgetting your friend’s important life dates to you?
Like the above, this question measures how important the problem of forgetting a friend’s important life dates is to a participant. By using a scale question, I can quickly measure the importance of solving this problem to participants. This question too has the potential to destroy my currently imagined business. To date, participants rank solving the problem of forgetting birthdays a 2.9 out of 5.
Question 12: If you could be reminded of your friends and family’s birthdays and important events would you want to be?
By now, participants are familiar with the two problems: forgetting friends and family’s birthdays and important events. I want to further measure how important solving these two problems are. Aware that it’s difficult for humans to predict future behavior, I decided to use a scale question to measure the current temperature of their desire to solve this. To date, 87.41% of participants expressed they would like to be reminded of their friends and family’s birthdays and important events. As a question that had the potential to destroy my currently imagined business, this response is quite encouraging.
(Participants that answered No skipped the next three questions and instead were asked: Why do you not want to be reminded of your friends and family’s upcoming birthdays and important events? What would this service need for you to be more interested in it?)
Question 13: How important is being reminded of your friends and family’s upcoming birthdays and important events?
As encouraging as the previous reply was, I want to confirm it. 87.41% of participants want to solve the problem, but how badly? I now ask a different question to measure the same thing: desire to solve. To date, participants marked the importance of being reminded of their friends and family’s birthdays and important events as a 4 out of 5.
Question 14: How much would you pay each month to be reminded of your friends and family’s upcoming birthdays and events?
Repetition yields perfection. The previous two questions asked participants if they want a solution and how badly. At the advice of a mentor, I next ask a question that elicits true desire and the most emotional responses: how much would you pay?
With these responses, I can pattern-match and draw more informed conclusions. This is also an anchoring question. By suggesting that Celi will be paid, when I launch Celi for public use as a free service, it will be a delight and should increase adoption. But, with the market’s desire to pay at more than $20 a year, maybe I should reconsider the freemium go-to-market strategy…
Question 15: What would you expect from this service to justify that monthly cost?
This question lets users tell me exactly what they want. From my experience as a consumer app product marketer, when asking users what features they want to be built and then building them, product launch communications become simple: You asked for it, and we built it. This product development strategy increases feature adoption and app expansion.
Question 16: If we build a service or app that reminds you of the upcoming birthdays and events in your friends and family’s lives, would you want to be a beta tester?
I saw a Twitter thread about how popular apps got their first users and was motivated to build Celi’s waitlist. I also knew in pre-seed investment pitches I’d be asked about traction. With this question, I want to be able to say “We already have over 100 users!” a figure beyond what the viral app BeReal’s brute force launch campaign was able to achieve.
Question 17: What username you would like to claim for your Celi account
Asking a Yes or No question to measure a participant's desire to beta test isn’t enough. I don’t want to settle for lukewarm reactions, so I created a double opt-in.
In The Mom Test, Rob Fitzpatrick encourages the reader to think of commitment as a currency. We receive commitment currency in three ways: time commitment, financial commitment, and reputation risk.
By asking a user to claim a username, I am securing a time commitment and building a stronger case for traction that can be included in a pitch deck. As of this writing, 179 usernames have been claimed. Celi > BeReal?
Also encouraging is what Nikita Bier, founder of Gas App (acquired by Discord), wrote in a thread detailing everything you need to know about building consumer social apps: “Getting 7 adult friends to install an app on a reproducible basis is non-trivial. If you can figure out how to do that, that’s a bigger idea than your original concept.”
Question 18: If we decide to build this consumer utility app or service, would you want to be considered for a pre-seed investment?
I view this survey as my one shot to ask everything I need. I’m not afraid to try or look silly. So, I’m including this simple question — should we consider you as a potential pre-seed investor? What this question really asks is “Are you willing to invest belief capital into Celi?”
This survey is public. I hope by posting it across social media, and asking participants to share it, that it will travel beyond what I am capable of distributing. And it has. To date, 68 participants, or 22.97%, indicated that yes, they would like to be considered for a pre-seed investment.
Question 19: Thank you for your interest — which day next week are you available for an introductory call?
I again use a double opt-in. Here I seek the commitment currency of financial commitment and time commitment by asking participants to select the best day for an introductory call. To date, 55, or 80.88%, of participants who answered yes to Question 18 have selected a day.
Question 20: Why should we not build a new consumer utility app or service that reminds you of your friends and family’s birthdays and life events?
The entire Celi survey was designed to allow for the Celi solution to be destroyed. Of the 20 questions, 9 had the potential to completely change or disprove Celi. To return a hard stop and tell me to start submitting job applications. This final question is a continuation of this.
There will come a time when I want you to become a support beam. But that day is not today. A compliment costs nothing. Compliments aren’t data when you’re trying to learn about a problem. This question was designed to elicit honest and possibly cruel responses, which it has. It‘s also returned great insights, one of which is that Celi doesn’t need to be an app…
Question 21: What is your preferred email?
In order to submit a response, participants need to enter an email. It’s required. Putting this at the end is intentional. Often surveys ask for personal data first, at the top of the funnel. This only deters participation and increases bounce rates. After 3 minutes and 20 questions, participants are invested and more likely to provide this information here.
A friend of mine John Pistotti once wrote “Every time you show someone that you believe in them, you make it easier for them to believe in themselves.” By completing this survey I want every participant to know how grateful I am for their belief in me, and then make my final ask: share it.
This not only helps collect more data but is the first attempt at trying to prove Relationship Led Growth, Celi’s iteration of product-led growth.
This ask also secures the final commitment currency of reputation risk.
In the coming weeks, I will expand the beta test and invite new users, begin hosting pre-seed investment discovery calls, and further introduce Celi and how it will change your life.
Yesterday, I had an encouraging Twitter exchange with Darren Mable, CEO of Issuance and executive producer of Going Public. He tweeted that two of his favorite questions to ask startup founders are have they quit their day job and have they quit drinking?