Three years after the launch of Eric Ries’ book “The Lean Startup”, I see more and more startup entrepreneurs making the effort to “validate” their idea before shifting into coding mode.
Which would be good, except those same entrepreneurs make a fundamental error: instead of validation, they go looking for justification.
If you go around asking people in your target market if they want your idea, a certain number will answer yes. Most startups will ask twenty or fifty or a hundred potential customers, count the yesses, and extrapolate to a market share. They then happily go to the fun part and invest a couple of person-years and a bunch of precious dollars building a solution, only to find that nobody wants to buy it and they have to close shop.
But wait – do all these “yes” answers mean your market is ready to buy, or are they a “yes” that they are interested in knowing more, or merely a polite “yes” just to get you off their back?
When you have an idea, and you’re anxious to get to the fun part of building it, it is only natural to ignore all the data that shows that you’re off-track and focus only on what justifies your desire to move forward. The problem with following this urge is that you will build what you want to build, not what the market is ready to purchase.
Idea validation is an essential part of exploring the problem-solution fit, or “for what critical problem or urgent desire is your solution the answer?” To do this properly, you need to explore your target market’s problems, needs, wants and desires to find out what keeps your potential customer up at night, and if the solution you have in mind really solves that problem or satisfies that desire.
Because your first idea comes from a place where your solution answers a problem which is important to you, then of course you feel you can assume that everyone else who experiences the same problem as you do (or did) would want your solution just as much as you do.
This is a trap.
You need to fall in love with their problem, not your solution. Your initial solution idea becomes a path to explore the problem space, until you find the problem behind the problem that energizes and inspires you to want to solve it. Then you iterate back from the deeper problem to a new solution, which will most likely be different – and better – than your original idea. And, in doing so, you will also figure out for whom the problem you’ve identified is something important to solve, and, most importantly, what will trigger them to seek out your solution.
It’s like the old saying: “Under all this poop, there must be a pony in there somewhere!” Your first startup idea will be crap. The secret is to persevere until you’ve reached your figured out what really excites you and the people around you. This could take five, ten or even a dozen iterations of bouncing back and forth from solution to problem to solution to problem… until you find that magic combination of people who recognize the value of what you are offering and who are ready to commit.
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