I want to share a technique with you that I have been using to streamline my customer development process. It's experimental, but so far it's saving me a lot of time and producing good results.
At the core, my technique involves using MTurk to collect targeted leads for some business ideas that have been brewing in my head. By using MTurk I was able to gather contact information from a huge list of websites in a very little amount of time. Sure, I could've written a scraper to find emails on most of these sites, but after weighing the cost/benefit ratio, I figured it just wasn't worth my time.
To give you some context, I had a list of around 2000 urls pointing to local chamber of commerce sites scattered across the United States. Quite a few of my business ideas involve these organizations, so I wanted to validate/gauge interest by sending out targeted email inquiries to each organization's leader.
For those of you unfamiliar with MTurk, it is a crowd-sourcing service from Amazon that allows you to submit small, well-defined tasks to thousands of people around the world. You basically construct a HTML form with a special templating syntax and then submit a CSV file that will populate into that form when Amazon displays it to their crowd of workers.
You can see a sample of the task that I created below.
Aside: I generated the above form using Shpaml which I highly recommend for writing short-hand HTML. It significantly cut down on my typing and development time.
I ran a test trial using 100 urls. The task was set up so that every url would be sent to at least 3 workers. In total, 300 turkers worked on my task. On Sunday morning I had submitted the task to Amazon Mturk. When I came back 4 hours later, it was already completed! Although there were a few spammers, the overall quality was great for what I was trying to achieve. Check out a small sample of my mturk results.
Out of the batch of 300, fourty of the answers came from spammers. I know that 13 percent sounds like a lot! However, since I had 3 workers work on each URL, I quickly filtered out the spam by accepting only the answers where two or more mturkers intersected.
For those of you trying to capture the local marketplace, or even if you're just interested in getting this data, send me a quick email! I will be running through the rest of my batch in the upcoming days.