This was originally written on Medium and can be found here: https://medium.com/swlh/how-to-test-study-and-validate-your-big-idea-27f472045b2a
I spend my days chatting with aspiring founders. They come from every walk of life, location and background imaginable.
I love that diversity — and I love entrepreneurs.
If I tell you about my idea, will you to steal it?
I won’t. I promise.
2. What do you think — is it a good idea?
It doesn’t matter what I think.
3. Okay, but could this product make a lot of money?
I have no idea.
Answering the first question is easy. It’s simply about reassuring a skittish caller and (sometimes) signing an NDA.
The second one always catches people by surprise. Why?
Because, more than passion, more than excitement, more than a strong entrepreneurial track record or $500K in the bank, I’ve realized that one attribute sets successful founders apart from the rest of the hungry pack:
Building a thriving business demands more than a good idea. It requires extraordinary focus.
It means solving a problem that’s driving you crazy and haunting your dreams.
Your idea should feel so compelling that you won’t be able to live with yourself if you don’t dig in and see it through.
And here’s where we arrive at question #3, and the frustrating reality that until you take your product to market, no one can predict whether your idea will earn any cash.
You could consult the most brilliant investors, developers, business strategists and trend forecasters on the planet (and throw in a tarot card reading for good measure), but only your customers can tell you whether this plane is going to fly.
Okay, I’m obsessed. Now what?
Here’s where the conversation gets a little meatier.
As you’re working to develop the product or application, there’s a parallel track of market validation and concept refinement that’s freely available to anyone with a Wi-Fi connection and a dream.
You can’t eliminate risk entirely, but you can gather invaluable information and feedback that can help you make smarter decisions at every turn.
Step 1 — read, study and learn
Forgive me if this phase feels rudimentary, but you’d be amazed how many people skip right over it.
At least once a week, I talk to someone who breathlessly outlines their idea for an app that helps users find, filter and review restaurants (or shoe stores or chiropractors) in a specific area.
“Have you heard of Yelp?” I’ll ask.
Start at the App Store and Google Play.
Look at the top-rated apps and the latest releases.
Check out the top grossing apps, the top paid and free apps, and the editors’ choice sections.
Enter keywords related to your idea and see what pops up.
If you’re working on a fitness product, start wide and gradually narrow in on a relevant topic, like running or nutrition or motivation.
If you find an application that feels similar to yours, go in for a closer look.
When was it first published, and more importantly, when was it last updated? If the app was released in 2013 and hasn’t had any new versions, it’s not a competitor.
Let’s get a whole lot nerdier
Now it’s time to put on your glasses and do some reading.
Visit TechCruch to learn which startups are getting funded and what just launched.
Narrow in on your industry and do a series of keyword searches.
Next, head over to CrunchBase and pick a company in your category.
Let’s stick with fitness. You’ll want to look at FitBit, for example, and in just a few taps or clicks, you can learn about the company’s founders, funding rounds, investors, partners, and acquisition details (if applicable).
If similar startups are getting funding, that’s a great sign; there’s buzz and interest and money behind them.
Don’t forget about LinkedIn, either. Enter the name of a startup or product and pick the “companies” tab from the search results. From there, you can see the current employee count, functional distribution, average employee tenure, and growth over time.
As you get deeper into the dev process, you might even want to invest in analytics or market data from a source like App Annie (and no, this is not #sponsored).
Step 2 — survey, test and poll
Whether you’re seeking general concept validation or you’re not sure if a specific feature would be helpful, try a Twitter poll. They’re free and ridiculously easy to run.
When you compose a tweet, select the “add poll” icon and type in your question. That’s it. Clearly, this isn’t a statistically valid research study, but it’s a great way to get answers — fast.
And, as with many things in life, when you repeatedly hear the same answer or suggestion from people who have no skin in the game, it’s worth listening carefully.
Google Surveys aren’t free, but getting quick and honest feedback from thousands of people can be worth the small investment.
It’s like casting a wide net and seeing what you reel in. Or, you can narrow in and target people in specific locations and age ranges.
Step 3 — reach out and gather interest
This is my favorite — and possibly the most impactful — part of the validation process. It’s time to connect directly with potential customers or clients.
Start by creating a basic landing page that includes your logo, product description and any branding materials you’ve developed.
Add a (brief!) pitch and a message like: “Coming soon.Sign up for email updates.” You can also add an investors page and other relevant details, but keep it lean.
Purchase some targeted Facebook ads that drive your core demographic back to your page. It’s a simple process, but it can be incredibly effective. Just the other day, for example, I spoke to a guy who has cultivated a 3,000-member email list for a wine app that’s still in development — and all those curious people came through his landing page.
As your idea starts to sharpen up and lose the fuzzy edges, consider Google AdWords. Again, the small cash outlay can pay dividends if you connect with the right people. Go beyond the basic gender and age filters and choose your target country, region, city and neighborhood, if possible, and drive people back to your landing page. The Keyword Planner function can also help you match search trends with your ad campaign to make it even more effective.
Finally, get ready to do some direct outreach through Instagram or YouTube. A quick Google search of the “top 10 social media fitness influencers” will direct you to those Insta-famous people who have the power to launch trends and amplify brands. Before you connect, be sure check out their follower counts; someone who routinely logs 10 million unique views on a YouTube video will probably ignore your email — or they’ll demand compensation for their time. Keep searching and filtering to find the up-and-comers with 10,000 views or followers. This is your sweet spot. Send a quick, clear and respectful message asking for a couple minutes of their time. Prepare your questions and have a real conversation.
Whether you’re an introvert or you get shifty about chatting up strangers, this is not the time to be shy.
Most people love to share their opinion and will happily give you 5–10 minutes of their time, if you’re clear about what and why you’re asking. Send a DM that’s brief and personalized, such as:
“Hi Dan, I love your feed — especially the yoga poses you share every Monday. I’m actually working on an app that would make it easier for fitness professionals to film instructional videos, and I’d love to know if this is something you would use. Could we chat for a few minutes next week?”
It’s that simple.
Not everyone will respond, but the people who do are probably interested in your idea and have some valuable feedback to share.
Remember that as you connect with this small network of influencers, you’re also creating potential marketing relationships that you can leverage when it’s time to launch.
Everyone wins — especially your future users. Oh, and if someone comments on any of your social media posts, pages or conversations, make sure to follow up promptly.
Direction to fuel your obsession
It’s amazing how much specific, useful information you can get from a combination of these activities — and most are entirely free.
But please don’t forget: confidence and commitment to your idea are paramount. Do your research, consider the feedback and keep moving forward. Everyone has an opinion, but nothing matters than your own drive.
Henry Ford may or may not have said it best — and even if he never uttered these famous words, they still pierce the heart of what it means to put on your blinders and run your own race:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”