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What is the best way to validate a new (sports) social network?

I am taking on the challenge of building a social network for sports fans. This has been done before, and I think all of them have failed. (Why? - if you have insight let me know)

Since this is a social network, and because it's targeting a highly engaged niche market of sports fans, it needs to drive/sustain high engagement, and viral growth. My concern is that any validation method I use today would only capture sentiment at a point in time, and wouldn't be a great indicator of usage behavior over time.

As of now, here's I am planning to do:
  • Develop a prototype (wireframes and or screenshot initially) that I can present to people at sports bars
  • Develop a survey/questionnaire to capture feedback
  • Launch a landing page and track email signups; using paid search in a select pilot market(s)
  • Franchise engagement is super important, so I am lining up meetings with senior execs at all of the major sports leagues in the hopes of getting letters of intent
  • Sponsors are also really important, so I am developing a pitch deck for SELECT national brands, again with the hopes of getting letters of intent
  • Media could have value for a number of reasons, so I am developing a value prop for local reporters, bloggers, sports talk radio, etc.
What other methods of validation and/customer development should I be thinking about for this (or any) concept?

1 Reply

Tom Cunniff
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Tom Cunniff Entrepreneur • Advisor
Founder at Cunniff Consulting, B2B Brand Consultancy
With respect, IMO you're trying to do too many things at once.

Instead, I'd recommend something like the following:

Project 1: Research why past sports social networks have failed.

Project 2: Ask "what value can we deliver that cannot easily be satisfied elsewhere?" My instinct is that you face an enormous "threat of substitution" problem. There are no shortage of places on and offline to discuss sports.

Project 3: If the answers to Projects 1 and 2 leave you undaunted, consider starting with a single sport that is highly engaging yet under-served, and test your theories with a live site for it as inexpensively as possibly. If you can't drive real engagement with that, it's a pretty clear signal that there's no there there.

P.S. Will the franchises sign letters of engagement with you before you have real users, real traction, and high growth? I may be wrong, but it's a question worth considering before you invest a lot of time and effort. Without these, I suspect you may not even be able to get a phone call or in-person meeting.
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