How to Use Online Forums To Find a Business Idea

A week ago, I abandoned the Giant DIY Kits idea.

The validation numbers weren’t great, my heart wasn’t in it, and my wife was not excited about it.

For that idea, I brainstormed a product idea then tried to find an audience willing to buy it. The audience was parents of kids 3-12 and they rejected it.

Now I’m taking the reverse approach.

Choose an audience first

I’m choosing an audience and trying to find a product that solves their problems. The audience I’ve chosen is people trying to lose weight. Here’s my rationale:

I know people spend money trying to lose weight. $60/mo for Weight Watchers, $100/mo gym memberships, $200/mo meal replacements, $300/mo personal trainers, $15,000 surgeries.

People wanting to lose weight isn’t a recent trend, it’s an evergreen niche.

I can identify with people trying to lose weight. I keep up to date on the latest diets & fads. I have tried many diets myself (Keto, Paleo, Intermittent Fasting, calorie counting, etc). I’ve done several fitness programs (Crossfit, 4 Hour Body, yoga, etc).

My wife is intrigued. She offers input and likes the problem-solving focus.

I want this to be an online business and it’s easy to find people online who are trying to lose weight.

Large audience, lots of problems, lots of money spent. It seems like a place where, if I deliver a truly great solution to a problem, I’ll make money as a natural result of the value added. I like that. Again, the goal is to solve a problem and make money as a result.

Immerse yourself in the audience

Since choosing the audience, I’ve immersed myself in an online forum trying to learn more about people who are trying to lose weight.

To find a good forum, I Googled “weight loss forum” and clicked a few links until I found one that had lots of active participants.

From there, I started reading forum posts and took note of the following:

Who are they? Sex, age, location, job, mindset, life stage, etc? Any trends?
What pains & fears do they suffer as a result of their weight?
What are their goals?
What obstacles prevent them from reaching their weight loss goals?

I shouldn’t downplay this research step, it’s time consuming. I’ve probably spent 20 hours reading and taking notes so far. I even hired a virtual assistant on Upwork to help me copy/paste posts into a spreadsheet so could I sort through them faster.

Doing this research has made me realize that “people trying to lose weight” covers a vast spectrum. Probably too vast. I need to hone in.

Narrow down to a niche

I’m currently trying to figure out which niche I want to focus on. I don’t have it figured out yet, but here’s what I’m considering:

Who can I reach most easily online?
Who needs the most help?
Who do I want to help the most?
Who will accept my help?
Who is overlooked / underserved?

My mind is swirling with a mixture of insights, demographics, pains, goals etc. I have spreadsheets, Google docs, and sheets of paper covered in notes. Research is messy & weight loss is complicated.

I guess I’ll share this in advance, even though it’s not 100% yet.

I think I’m going to focus on women who want to lose weight. At first, I thought it would be men, because I’m a man and thought that’d be a more natural fit.

But, women are more active in the weight loss forum I’m participating in. They share their pains, fears, and goals related to weight loss. Their posts are more heartfelt. Almost all my research time has been spent on reading posts by women. This makes it easy for me to empathize with them and want to help.

Men are less active in the forum (representing less than 10% of the commenters in the forum), and less open about their weight loss problems.

Of course, each person is different and some men are very open, but I think I’ll start by focusing on women and see where that leads.

What’s next?

I need to narrow down my niche beyond just “women who want to lose weight” and decide which age, mindset, and life stage I’ll focus on.

I also need to start doing 1:1 interviews with women who want to lose weight. Much can be learned from reading forums, but I need to have some actual conversations to make sure I have a real understanding of the issues and as well as real personal connections with my potential audience. The conversations will probably take place via Skype or Google Hangouts and potentially some in person too.

The goal is 100 interviews.

It’s a daunting step because it requires cold messaging women online to talk about weight loss. I’m not sure what their initial incentive will be to chat with me, beyond just having someone to share their problems with or vent to. I’ll have to resolve that.

In between interviews, I need to be thinking about what kinds of products / services / solutions I might be able to offer my audience.

I’ll follow up with my progress next week.

-Ryan

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