How to tell if this idea is a good idea.

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Good Idea or Bad Idea?

I’ve got an idea for a product. I’ve talked to some people. I know some people in the industry. I have been cold calling others. The idea is promising. The price point people have agreed with is about where I would like it to be. I’ve shown some mockups around and iterated on them. Now, I feel the need to start writing code because, well, I like writing code. And I’m comfortable writing code. But I see lean people.

Steve Blank, Eric Ries, Jason Cohen, Ash Maurya, and a thousand other blogs think I should talk to X people in Y stages. I have followed much of the methodology rigidly to this point, but I have come to a realization. I don’t see many examples of products in the lean world that have markets that aren’t primarily online. Many of the products are technical in nature. This doesn’t overlap with my idea.

I know some civil engineers that think the world of project management in their field is ripe for revolution, but do I know enough of them? How many should I talk to? 5? 30? 100? Do I need 10 customers before I begin? What if finding people to interview using cold calls takes more time than building a product? Building relationships in an industry can take more time than building an MVP. What if I have one guy willing to pay me to start? What if all the advice I read seems disconnected from the market I’m targeting?

Am I ignoring sage advice because I want to be comfortable and write code or am I wasting time with techniques for validation that may or may not improve the odds of success? How much validation is enough?

There isn’t one true answer. This is what the journey of the startup is. I’m not sure what I should do next. I don’t have enough information to pick the best path. No amount of Lean Startup validation is going to ensure success. No one doubts the value of getting out of the building and talking to customers, but I’ve come to realize that even that is a tradeoff. It takes time to organize interviews with busy business people. It takes time to cultivate contacts. I believe it is just as possible to waste time validating an idea as it is to waste time building something no one will buy.

Eventually you have to make a call. I’ve decided to set a goal. If I can find 5 more people that are in on this idea in the next 30 days: it’s a go. If I can’t find five people who are excited about the idea then I may have a bad idea, a difficult market, a lack of motivation, or a dozen other problems. I like what Derek Sivers had to say in his book: keep looking until you find a hit.

4 thoughts on “How to tell if this idea is a good idea.”

  1. If somebody is willing to pay you something, you have a MVP of sorts. Solve only his most pressing problem, and then iterate based on learning.
    Can you take shortcuts in solving his problem? Then do!
    Once you have a real product that is validated, comes the time to make the shift into lasting value.

  2. This is a really thought provoking post. I have really liked the lean approaches to idea evaluation however you raise an excellent point – you could spend more time interviewing than actually building the product or MVP?

    Both are important – interviewing and building a product – however they feel almost sequential. You cannot build a product without knowing what to build. Both take time – however which one do you want to do first?

    If you really want to build something, then mock it up on paper or slides.

    It feels like the pain of going through the interviewing process is worth it in the long run when you discover your building something people actually want.

  3. During the process of cold pre-selling to your market you should get a feel of:

    A) What % of your market is interested in purchasing your solution
    B) Why

    A is all the market information you need to decide whether to go ahead. Weigh that up against product development costs.

    B gives you the messaging for selling your product.

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