founder stories

True story: how a founder validated his idea

We love it when readers submit story ideas for The Founder Playbook. But most of the time, there’s no story idea. It’s just people pitching their company. 🤷‍♂️

So when I read the first line of Slava’s submission, I had a big grin on my face.

“I may be the first non-NFT bro to use Discord as a sales prospecting and deal sourcing tool.”

I sent him an email to learn more. How did he use Discord to validate his startup idea? How did he transition from customer research to sales? 

So we hopped on Zoom, where Slava shared all the deets. Here’s the scoop.

First, what is Discord?

Discord is like the intersection of Slack and Reddit.

You can search for the servers (communities) that interest you and instantly join the conversation. The servers are publicly accessible to anyone interested in the forum. 

You can get to know the members, and even the admins, just by being part of the community.

Find your potential customers 

In the beginning, Slava’s concept for Camlann Games, a video game discovery platform & operating system for game studios, was just an idea. 

He needed to validate that idea by talking to potential customers.

But the relationships between video game developers and publishers have historically been quite formal. They would send long emails to each other and address the messages with "Dear publisher…” etc.

So Slava (who has a background in gaming) said, forget that. He knew there was already an active gaming community in Discord.

He found the servers his target audience was in, and became an active member. Slava played video games with the other members. He jumped into voice chats and contributed to discussions. He took time to genuinely get to know the community.

True networking is all about making friends first

Slide into their DMs

The beautiful thing about Discord is how easy it is to message somebody from the community. Slava used this to have 100+ conversations with potential users.

“Hey! Great game. Great to be a part of the early stages. Quick question: How much control does Stream give you in terms of pricing/discounts/specials/updates? Basically, do you drive as a developer? Or do they control a lot of the content, timeline, and pricing?”

He talked to members from all backgrounds.

  • People who are working with massive publishers
  • People who are working with tiny publishers
  • People with no publishers

Through these casual conversations, he discovered two big pain points that the majority of developers had in common. 

Learning #1 — The revenue share with developers is unfair

Back in the day, it was common to have a 50/50 revenue split. Or sometimes even 40/60 or 30/70 in favor of the publisher.

There was little access to technology back then. And it was expensive to publish a video game.

But within the last several years, technology has made games easier and cheaper to produce. So why are publishers still demanding a 50/50 revenue share?

The publishers are providing some value with “marketing” (which we’ll get to in the next learning). But in today’s world, developers have more opportunities to control the creation and marketing process. 

This gives them more leverage in negotiations and ultimately, more choices.

Learning #2 — Publishers don’t understand marketing in 2023

Video game publishers are stuck in the past when it comes to advertising. 

These conversations with potential customers revealed that publishers only do the bare minimum of publicity. In one conversation, they told Slava:

“There are so many great YouTubers and Twitch streamers that I absolutely love. But our publishers didn’t reach out to any of them.”

The big publishers are using old marketing techniques or are barely marketing their clients at all. This had to change.

How to segue the conversation into sales

After playing games with members and learning about their problems, it was time for the ultimate test.

Will people actually pay for what you’re building?

Here’s a message that Slava sent to land his first customers.

“Hi there. Was glad to have discovered Age of Space. I was incredibly impressed with the Homeworld-esque gameplay but with obviously some unique 4x, grand strategy elements. Very cool. Full transparency, I do represent a publisher. Who is the best person on your team to speak with regarding business matters?”

I love the transparency behind a message like this. It’s complimentary, direct, and comes from a semi-warm relationship.

This approach has opened doors to Slava's first sale. Of course, not everyone bought what he was pitching. 

But the friends who rejected him gave candid feedback on why they’re not a good fit. So even a “no” was a massive learning experience.

How to use discord (or any community) to validate your idea

Discord doesn’t only have gamers or “NFT bros”.

Slava has seen active communities for lawyers, teachers, marketers + more.

So if you have a marketing tech product or an ed-tech product, consider Discord as a way to meet potential customers.

Whatever community you choose to engage with, Slava has one big recommendation:

Be a genuine member of the community.

During his exploration calls, members would tell Slava how much they appreciated his approach. Slava didn't jump straight into a sales pitch.

He played games. Joined the discussion. Made friends.

It’s only after establishing that trust that you’ll find the options to explore ideas.