Avoid working on the wrong product. In the long run, the direction of the effort matters more than its intensity.
A huge problem with software products is that we often end up building the wrong thing. In software, the goal post keeps moving fast. It seemed to be the right product three months ago. But, life happened, communication dropped and it’s the wrong product now. So you wake up one morning and find that you’ve spent the last three months building A Big Nothing. This happens so often with software.
It’s even worse to start on the wrong product from the get-go.
Let’s also forget the notion of a blanket good idea. There’s only: good idea, for a specific founder, at a specific time.
Product-market-founder fit is what we’re all looking for. Sure, we’re looking for an idea that can reach product-market fit. But it also has to make us want to jump out of bed in the morning, and start working towards it.
With no further ado, let’s look at the idea validation checklist.
The product-market-founder fit: is this the right idea for you?
- Passion. Do you care about the idea? Imagine a quick chat with your 7-year old self, where you explain what you’re working on. Is your 7-year old self proud of you? Passion is important, because you’ll hit the wall many times, and true enthusiasm will help in the darkest hours.
- Does it scratch your own itch? When you build something that you’d want to use yourself, you check many boxes all at once. You’ll have access to the single most important thing in product development: feedback. Anytime, anywhere.
- Testability. Entrepreneurs can prove out quite a bit with little to no capital. Could you first see manually whether your product works? Think about providing the core product to one customer, and then provide it as a service to many. Then build a product from the commonly used services.
- Would it only work if you’re there 24/7? To rephrase the question: can you build and launch the product while having a full-time job? Even if you want to start the new company as your one and only focus, it helps to know wheter you could run it on the side by outsourcing everything. In case life happens.
Is it a good idea?
- Is it a good idea? We had a simple rule of thumb in our ad agency, to tell good creative concepts from the great ones. It goes like this: if you hear this concept, does it give you more ideas? A good idea should give people a thousand more ideas. You tell the idea to somebody, and watch them light up and come up with new ideas right away. “Yes, and this should be the next headline”, “yes, and we could also say…”
- Can you finish it? If there is one principle that founders often miss, it is this: finish your project! It’s the most simple, yet the most disregarded princinple I can think of. You can sell a small but complete product. You can’t sell a half-baked pile of dreams.
- How quick can you test it with real users? The Minimum Viable Product shouldn’t take more than 2-4 weeks to build. You’ll most probably need the power to run a new test each month for the next year. Would this fit your time and resources?
- Is there competition? In some fields it’s incredible hard to start small, because the other incumbents are too strong. You’ll be immediately judged against the giants. Even if you have some advantage, nobody uses a product that doesn’t compare to the competition. You could have built a photo sharing app with a sloppy iterative approach in 2006. Since Instagram, those days are over.
Will you be able to sell it?
- Is it easy to explain the idea to others? If people don’t understand the idea right away, that’s a problem. That makes it expensive to advertise. It makes it impossible to hire people for.
- Do you have access to the target group right now? (It only applies if this is not your first venture.) You can sell a new product to an old group or an old product to a new group – but it’s hard to sell a new product to a new group. Hand on heart: are you trying to do just that?
- Can you reach 5-10 potential buyers cheaply? Test this by analyzing keywords on Adwords or Facebook, and see how expensive each click would be. Then, try to cold call companies who might be good customers. To my own surprise people will give you amazing feedback even without a product. And three out of four ideas won’t survive these calls – you’ll save a lot of time if you sell first and build later.
- Can it make $1000 within two months? If yes, can you grow it by 20% month over month? Change these numbers according to your plans. Tying the effort to revenue growth somehow makes the idea validation more realistic.
Work on an idea, no matter what, if…
There are two good reasons to work on something almost no matter what:
- If you can learn something that you can use for the rest of your life. Be careful with this definition. A fancy new programming framework doesn’t qualify. Learning to write code does. Trying sales for the first time does.
- If you can work with people you admire. Even if the idea goes to zero, you can take good relationships into the next one. And the one after, until kingdom come.
Saving the best one for last.
When in doubt, build something beautiful.