Photo by Paul Flessland | Graphics courtesy of Codelation
After more than a decade working in design and software and founding multiple businesses and products, Codelation Founder Josh Christy understands one thing above all else: The world of entrepreneurship is lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.
That’s why he started a blog, to not only help fellow CEOs and owners step around some of the holes he’s fallen into but, perhaps more importantly, to help them discover (or rediscover) their “why.”
The “why,” he believes, is what will keep you grounded during those highest highs and what will pull you out of those lowest lows.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve had the conversation with someone about their idea, and in almost every conversation, I get asked, “So, what do you think?”
I used to struggle with the “North Dakota nice” versus what I really felt.
One day, I was talking with my wife about some sales she was doing and asked the same question. I had the epiphany that I wasn’t her target market so what did it matter what I thought? All that mattered is what her target customer thought.
The next time the “So what do you think?” conversation happened was at work. I paused for a moment or two and responded with, “It really doesn’t matter what I think, and you shouldn’t care what I think.” I remember him sitting across the table taken aback. I quickly clarified that I’m not his target market. “I won’t be buying your product so I’m the last person that needs to over- or under-inflate your product’s worth.”
So how do you figure out if anyone cares about your product? These two little words have helped me take our ideas from failure to success. Ready? Welcome to the world of . . . idea validation.
While this appears to be a self-explanatory term, it would shock you to know just how many people I come into contact with who have validated their idea inside a bubble.
Idea validation simply cannot come full circle without having considered and contacted a handful of different people.
Here are three key players in helping to validate your shiny, new product idea.
1. YOUR CUSTOMERS
Have you ever heard of iSmell, a product made by DigiScents in 2001? This computer USB attachment was meant to emit smells when a user visited websites or opened emails—the smells being unique combinations of 128 different scents.
While this piece of technology was rather innovative, it didn’t exactly hit a home run in terms of market need.
If DigiScents had done more market research and made direct contact with their target customers, they likely would have been able to better adapt to the needs of their customers and form a solution to a more relevant problem (other than the pressing problem of being unable to smell the internet’s scents while surfing the web).
“It would shock you to know just how many people I come into contact with who have validated their idea inside of a bubble.”
After all, almost any successful product is aimed at providing a solution to a pain point in a customer’s personal or professional life. A product focused on solving a pressing problem will yield far better results than a product made for a problem that doesn’t really exist.
To gain a better understanding of what your customers are yearning for and what they are willing to pay for it, ask them. Avoid friends and family, as they will probably just tell you what you want to hear, but ask everyone else.
Encourage your interviewee to feel comfortable telling you their honest thoughts. Something along the lines of “I have a product idea, but I’m not sure if it’s any good. Be as harsh as you can because I want to make this work” should do the trick.
Every person you ask will make your development phase a little bit easier. You’ll be able to nip potential problems in the bud and get on with the good stuff.
2. YOUR COMPETITORS
Is a similar product already on the market? If the answer is “no,” that could mean ease of entry for you. It could also mean something really bad. No direct competitors could mean that other people have tried and failed.
There are loads of reasons a product could fail, but there really aren’t any reasons for you not to do your research to learn about these products and what went wrong.
By doing some research, you could save yourself a lot of time and money in realizing that a) Your product just may not work or b) Your product needs some serious tweaks, and thank you to failed products X, Y and Z for showing you what not to do.
If there are products on the market similar to yours, it’s time to get creative.
What makes your product stand out from the rest? Why would a customer choose your product over a competitor’s? If a customer is already using a competitor’s product, are you prepared to sway them to drop what they know and buy your product instead?
A simple way to answer these questions is by just asking them. Ask your potential customers:
- What product are you currently using to solve your XYZ problem?
- What do you like about (competitor’s product)?
- What don’t you like about (competitor’s product)? Why?
- When was a time when you (were frustrated/happy) with (competitor’s product)?
- What else do you think I should know?
Hearing customers praise and critique your competitors is much better validation than you could ever get by making your own assumptions.
If developing a great product is half the battle, delivering it is the other half.
To have a successful product, you must be able to provide the skills, knowledge and resources that your customers require. Are you a marketing wizard? Your product needs to be marketed for people to know about it.
“Hearing customers praise and critique your competitors is much better validation than you could ever get by making your own assumptions.”
Do you know how to keep track of your financials? Going bankrupt would be a buzzkill. Do you have time to answer the phone when a customer has a question? Can you keep track of inventory? How good are you at social media?
You might answer “absolutely” to all of the above, but the bigger question is: Do you want to be doing all of this? There are so many things that can take your attention when launching your product. In the beginning, you’ll most likely be doing all of it.
Really start to work on your emotional intelligence (EQ) because the long days and weeks will start to feel like a grind if you’re doing things you just don’t like. Find a way to fund those things that you don’t like or don’t want to be doing.
Realistically evaluating your own skills and your ability to handle all aspects that come with running a business is an extremely important step toward building a successful venture.
Being an entrepreneur requires more time and money than most people expect, but being prepared and understanding how to wisely invest your valuable resources can help you to maximize your ROI, profits and growth.
By taking these steps to validate your idea in the early stages of planning, you’re given the ability to redirect your focus if need be. To build a successful product, it’s imperative that you first understand the needs of your customers, the competition your product will face and your own abilities.
Like any entrepreneur, you obviously want to make sure your product is going to be well-received once it’s launched. And let me tell you, it’s much more rewarding to know you’ve built a product that people have said “yes” to before building it.
Putting in the work early on means you can kick your feet up later and watch the successes roll in.
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