I’ll be honest with you. You shouldn’t test the profitability of your startup ideas based on the feedback from a few friends.
I’ve heard from some of my friends who come up with an idea, ask me about it and then take my answer as a feedback that is tagged as a result in market research. The point is, although the idea appears to be good, feedback from friends like me doesn’t really indicate the potential of the idea to float. I’m not their potential user and that means I’m hardly the passionate user they are targeting. I’m just a random guy asked to test the “goodness” of an idea.
It’s said that if you build something passionately to “scratch your own itch“, you’re most likely going to build something amazing. And this is totally true with a high chance of becoming very successful. Like Basecamp from 37Signals.
But let’s say you are just trying to scratch someone else’s itch. How do you figure out if your idea will float?
Will My Idea Fly?
Market research is for big guys and it’s a boring routine that has failed many times. It’s not a part of startup.
The key to figure out whether people will buy your idea (executed and packaged as a beautiful, useful product) is to test it out in the open even before you build the whole thing.
And by testing it out, I am not saying:
- “ask” people verbally
- ask your friends or their friends
- ask your family
- find people who are relevant to your target market outside your friends’ circle: for instance, if you’re building an app for invoices, find people who are already using invoice apps or those who are still using traditional invoice software
- show them your interface and guide them through it: design the interface to a highly-usable level (no bare bones) and show them to these people to get their honest feedback
- then, depending on their feedback, build your product.
This is work at the ground-level because you’re going to spend time seeking such people, getting acquainted with them and then asking them to spare some time for you.
It takes a bit of time. You will have to network somewhat extensively to acquaint with such people. You will have to meet in-person with a bunch of folks and spend sometime with them showing your interface designs.
The benefits? I’ll list them out:
- Passionate users make the best testers
Imagine this: you’re building an invoice app. I – your buddy – have very little experience in invoicing and the most I do is send invoices through PayPal. Then, there’s someone who isn’t your friend but who spends half his working time invoicing. Who is the better user and, as a result, a better “pre-beta” tester? The other guy is a “passionate” user. I’m just your friend who knows nothing – and so gives not a damn – about invoice apps.
- You’ll understand the real “itch” as against the guesstimated one
Most of us just assume and guesstimate that X is a problem for a majority of the users. And we build based on that guesstimate. That’s not how you build successful startups. When you sit with a real user and show him the interface of your app (and guide him through the features), he’ll tell you what you missed. He’ll tell you what’s the most pressing need.
- You get to tweak your app better
Going this route also means you don’t have to abandon your idea. You tweak your idea based on the feedback and finally, like a professional diamond cutter, you refine your idea to a level where it becomes insanely useful.
Why “Interface” / Why Not Prototype?
I deliberately avoided saying prototype because building a prototype is a waste of time until you get the feedback. And you can get a decently relevant feedback just through the interface of your app. If you’ve read GettingReal, you know how the emphasis is on designing the HTML pages first: that’s pretty much enough for the first feedback.
Once you design your interface, you just walk the users through it. Don’t “sell” or boast about a feature. Just go through the functionality as if it’s a real app and let the features sink in.
And then build your magnum opus.
There are exception to the rule of “don’t ask/get feedback from friends/friends of friends.” It kicks in when friends/friends of friends are passionate and regular users too or when the idea relates to games, music, videos or other generic and popular market.
Image by Flickr User: Ian McConchie