Well, user research isn’t normally a huge issue for a startup. After all, if they cannot reach their audience for testing, they will not be able to reach them for selling!
In terms of data, one approach I favor is to build a landing page for a product or service BEFORE creating the full thing. The landing page will appear as if it is a real product or service, but when people click the call to action, they will be asked to join a waiting list instead and informed the product has yet to launch.
You can then advertise the landing page just as you would as if you had launched the product. You can then monitor the conversion rate to judge the viability of your startup idea.
There is probably a whole playbook required for this one as I haven’t done the best job explaining it
If you’ve got no direct access to the customer then I struggle to understand how you are going to sell to them anyway. It certainly severely limits your options from a user research perspective.
The best I could suggest in a circumstance like that it’s to do online research into the audience. Look at their social media profiles and pay attention to the questions they ask, the comments they make, and the struggles they are facing.
You can also pay attention to the sites they use.
That may give you some insights into their mindset but is pretty poor when compared to actually speaking directly to people.
I should also add that I am not convinced that this is a realistic scenario. I have worked in very competitive sectors whose clients are very time-poor and hard to access. Yet it has always been possible to have at least some form of interaction with them either through a short zoom call or a quick survey. I feel that this scenario is often used as an excuse not to do user research. But, just because something is hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
This isn’t a replacement for user research, but a request for user research methods that are more accessible in that context. Let me give you an example.
You have an unvalidated product. You don’t have funding and no real clients yet. No social media presence, and not enough contacts to get a decent number of survey responses.
Convincing the clients or VCs to even talk to you in a face to face interview, you would show them a pitch deck, a landing page or a one pager. Which requires a value proposition to be convincing.
In some cases applications to grants and funding options require a Value proposition as part of the documentation. And you may not have the time to wait for X number of people to commit to interviews.
In which case you need alternative methods of user research to the ones mentioned in the playbook to write a convincing VP. The below options you mentioned are great and should open the door to further iterate