I just got an email from someone looking for feedback on their product idea. The idea itself was as muddled as most early ideas but what caught my attention was the goals section.
1 month- Finalize the concept and find a team
6 months: Develop a beta version
6 motnhs-1 year: Find companies to run tests with, improve program
It is nearly backwards. The order puts market learning at the tail end of the process. It got me thinking about how much we still need to educate young entrepreneurs. We’re making incredible progress in our understanding of how to build a new product/company. But most entrepreneurs understanding hasn’t evolved from the “field of dreams” method that has been our history.
Here is my response.
Thanks for sharing.
I’ll focus on the process rather than the idea because you should primarily take feedback on the quality of your entrepreneurial ideas from the market, your target customers.
Goals:Your only goal initially should be to figure out if anyone cares about the idea. Would anyone use it? The largest risk in most tech startups is building something no one wants. If I were you, my process be something like this:
1) Week 1 - Paper prototypes. Draw the basic screens on paper (or in a tool like http://balsamiq.com/) without any polish to flesh out the basic concept and get it out of your head. Words just can’t help you think through or communicate the idea nearly as effectively.
2) Weeks 2-4: go speak to people you think have this problem and validate that they have the problem you think they have. If you skip this step early in the process you will waste the vast majority of your time spent on the idea.
a) Ask them generally how they deal with the area of activity you’re talking about. See if they raise this on their own as a problem. How are they solving those problems right now and what is missing, sucks or is painful. (Notice I haven’t shown them the idea yet.) Job 1 is figure out if they think they have a problem and how it aligns with what you’ve come up with.
b) Show them the idea and see if they think it could help solve any of the problems they just described.
c) Rinse and repeat with 5-10 peopleThis will be uncomfortable because you’ll find that much of your idea is completely off base. But if you’re lucky your interviewees will collectively have landed on a part of it that seems useful.
d) Iterate the paper prototype and story of the idea until you get rid of everything that didn’t resonate with your target.e) Go out to a few new people and have the same conversation with your refined prototype and see if you’ve gotten closer to the mark.
3) Weeks 5-8: Once you’ve refined the idea to the point where lots of validation from customers that they think this solves an issue for them, start thinking about what it takes to build the smallest, simplest version of the concept which would solve the problem and where a business model (someone somewhere pays you for some value created) might work. Notice the objective still isn’t necessarily to build a tech product at this point. It could be you cobbling together a few tools that exist to simulate how you might solve the problem.
4) Weeks 9-10: Put this in front of your the customers you’ve interviewed and see if they engage with it. Do they care? If not, see what is missing in both your understanding of the problem and the way you’ve solved it. Customers cannot tell you how to solve the problem. They can only tell you that they have it and that your thing does or doesn’t work for them. Don’t expect more, you’ll wind up misguided.
Think about the process as being focused on testing your ideas in the real world as quickly and cheaply as possible. Speed in this case needs to be how fast can you go through this cycle of learning from customers and incorporating that into a “product” which starts out as paper and gets progressively more real as you have more data and validation.
The only thing you might need if you really struggle drawing the screens is someone to help with that, a web designer, who you could also audition as a co-founder by working through this process.
I think what you’ll find is that the problem that you think you’ve identified is adequately solved by some combination of other things but a subset (more likely) or super set (less likely) of that problem isn’t and that will be what you can run with.
The advantage to this approach is twofold. 1) It lowers the likelihood of solving a problem no one cares about and 2) Assuming you find a problem that’s worth dealing with, you’ll have more real world data and a deeper understanding of that problem than many other who might work on it. That makes it more likely that you’ll be able to attract the people and money you’ll need to move forward.
There are lots of books and blogs written about this approach. Take a look at the following for a deeper dive.
“Yes, I realize that’s a contradiction, but it seems to capture the essence of deals such as Goldman’s investment in Facebook at a $50B valuation and Groupon’s half-complete $950 million fundraising effort. These deals are designed to provide significant liquidity for insiders (especially early investors and employees), provide a piggy bank for continued aggressive growth and establish a share price for use in acquisitions. Those are all the things that companies traditionally got from an IPO. […] These deals should really be a wake-up call to politicians and regulators. They are a great example of how well-intentioned regulations can backfire. The net result of the Wall Street research settlement, SARBOX and other protections for small investors has been: small investors now have no access to the most interesting investment opportunities. Instead, these companies are going to be more or less fully developed by the time they eventually come to the public markets, with most of the upside having been captured by private investors. That’s especially annoying when it seems that with the Internet we should be seeing IPO 2.0 — direct to small investors without the historic flip opportunity for well connected investors.”—