How to be sure your idea will work before investing your scarcest resource

So you have a business idea, that’s great! But how do you find out if your idea will work? There are ways to validate your idea before investing money, hiring people and wasting your scarcest resource that can never be replaced - time.

We all know that a very large number of startups fail - 9 out of 10 in fact. Now that’s a scary number, but how do we minimise the risk for ourselves? What steps can we take to be sure we are building something that people will buy?  There are 2 ways you can test your idea in the market. One is quicker and easier to implement - Landing Page Testing, the other may take longer but will give you much richer results - Customer Interviews.  

I have used both and although they can be used to test your idea, I would strongly recommend using Customer Interviews first, to find your problem/solution fit and then at a later stage, use a Landing Page to start building an online following and split test (A/B test) your marketing message. If you have already achieved problem/solution fit and are working on your message, see here for how to build your landing page.

 

Customer Interviews

This for me, is the hardest part of starting a business. I find getting ideas easy, they just pop into your head with almost no effort on your part. As soon as you get an idea, it’s almost impossible to stop yourself from thinking about a solution to the problem. As entrepreneurs, we are almost always drawn to building things, we love to design, create, build and that’s one of the main reasons why most startups fail (insert Ash blog post).  It feels like the simplest next step to take, is to go out and find investors to start building out our product that will save the world!  But it isn’t, theres one very important step which shouldn’t, no cant be overlooked - leaving the building to interview customers.

 

Before finding investors, before even imagining what your product will look like, you need to first find your target customers and talk to them. The main point of these conversations is not to pitch them with your world-changing, life-saving solution, but its rather to dig deep and find out what their greatest pains are. What is the real problem that they are experiencing?  You cant build out a solution until you're absolutely sure about what it is you're solving.

 

Food for Thought

I can give you an example.  I wanted to build a food service for moms with young kids that would help them put healthy food on the table for their little ones. I was convinced that they would want healthy groceries delivered to their door weekly with recipe cards to follow, kind of like Hello Fresh for young kids. So I started getting carried away with the technology side of things and got so excited about how my service would work and what parts I could automate (I am an automation freak - if I could automate every manual thing in my house I would!). Then I remembered that I need to do that one small thing - speak to my target customers.

 

So I went to find moms with young kids and started asking what they currently do and what their biggest pains are. And to my surprise, many of them were perfectly happy with the meals they already provided and although it was hard at times, they just made do. In other words, they weren't looking for any way to solve a problem because they didn't have one. And others resorted to buying some already made, healthy options being sold at most major supermarkets. So they had solved their problem already!  I didn't find that any of them really had a big problem they were trying to solve that I could help with.  Had I skipped this stage I would currently be sitting with a beautiful piece of technology that nobody wants, while mums out there are happily feeding their kids!

This doesn't mean that the idea is rubbish or that it wont work in some way, but I know now that it wont work in the market I was interviewing. Perhaps I should try a different age group of kids, or parents, or target dads instead, but all I know is that what I was doing wasn't working. And I’m so glad I found that out before investing thousands of pounds and months of my life on the wrong solution.

Why you cannot skip this step

I know it is hard to force yourself out of the building and its scary at first to talk to people about your idea - it makes you feel very vulnerable, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to do. If you do nothing else in the beginning stages of your business except this, you will have done yourself a great favour.

It’s very tempting to assume that your are a visionary and your product doesn't need this step. One of the most tempting time is when your are your own target customer - you are solving a problem that you have experienced. Although this may make your life easier, it may also be so close to you that you don't see the wood for the trees. If you are your own customer, then great, it should be that much easier to find more people like you - just look around! 

Go out and start talking! Good luck and let me know how it goes in the comments below.

Other great references:

Here’s a great article on how to conduct your interviews by Justin Wilcox…. http://customerdevlabs.com/2013/11/05/how-i-interview-customers/.