Whether you are starting a startup or a hobby eCommerce store, this is a problem you are bound to come across, find a good product-market fit. I have a few entrepreneurial friends who launched businesses or printed out books only to be met with disappointed as they fail to get traction due to a poor product-market fit.
One guy ordered $5,000 worth of “made in China” goods and was hoping to sell them at the summer night market (another $5,000 bill) only to find himself $8,000 in the hole with a room full of unwanted products by the end of the summer. Another person disappeared for a few months writing a book and publishing with hopes of making a lot of sales and finding fame only to get a dozen sales (mostly from friends and family members) because the book did not have a market.
Both of those young entrepreneurs were passionate about their products, both of them hustled hard and were decent salesman but they overlooked one problem… they both had products that were ugly in the eyes of the market.
I call this the ugly baby or ugly puppy syndrome.
Just as how every mother would say their baby is beautiful or puppy owner would say their puppy is the best looking dog out there, every entrepreneur sees their idea as their baby and often become overly attached to it.
But what if the idea is an ugly product/service in the eyes of the market?
Entrepreneurs are going to deny it because they are taught to push on despite any criticism… but this is only useful if it has a good product-market fit. When we approach things from the product-first approach we become so focused on the product and its features we fail to connect with our end users provide a solution that fully addresses their needs.
Good entrepreneurs know when to jump ship and when to press on and often times they conduct extensive preliminary investigation to support continued development of the idea or to move on. In the startup world this term is called validation.
Here are some ways you can validate an idea:
1- Get out there and tell everyone about it
Contrary to the thinking that someone is going to steal your idea, people are busy and won’t have time to steal your idea. And if they do, there are probably a dozen more people out there who came up with the same idea and are working on it already and one more person working on it isn’t going to make that much of a difference. At the end of the day it’s a matter of good product market fit and good execution.
As you get yourself out there speaking on the solution and rallying people who are struggling with the problem your product you are trying to solve, you receive feedback from these end users. You get to establish yourself as an authority and known figure which could help you when you launch. Authors like Tim Ferris and Chris Guillebeau conduct speaking tours speaking on their respective topics to build up an audience base, conducting Q&A sessions BEFORE launch a book to find out what their niche is interested in and how can they cater their books to meet the needs; making a good product-market fit.
2- Conduct surveys
Sometimes the best way to prove the idea is not an ugly baby is to test it out. Instead of arguing with a team member and accusing him/her of being a doubter, set up a poll and drive some traffic to it see if your team member is noticing a blind spot. One thing I used to do at my old work place was to place bets with my supervisor testing whether a hypothesis is true or not. Not only did this make startup work a lot more fun, it encourages people to keep an eye out for blindspots.
Those those who are not tech savvy, there are multiple ways to set up polls from using survey monkey to handing out surveys at relevant events.
Advanced marketers/startup entrepreneurs also include an email opt-in form at the end of the survey to collect early opt-ins (by offering a raffle draw) which can offer you more avenues of validation as you can now reach out to these people who may be your early adopters.
3- Do a Trial
An alternative way to get validation is to create a mockup website and see if people are willing to go for it. Some early entrepreneurs think everything must be perfect before they reveal to the public… that is probably the biggest lie out there and it is causing thousands of business ideas to fail before launch because they feel that they aren’t good enough to look good.
Think about a kid’s lemonade stand, it’s not perfect, they don’t have electricity, they only have a table and people are already lining up to them. The same way you don’t need an extensive website, a simple one pager landing page is good enough. The point of this experiment is to see if people if people are interested in this idea and give you their email to hear more about it. Startups like Mint used landing pages to collect opt-ins to validate their app and later build a launch audience. If you are getting signups you know for sure you have something that has a good chance of working and these early signups can be early adopters you can reach out to by email or maybe call up and conduct interviews to know more about how you can create a product/service that can serve them best. (In a future article I will share how you can validate a niche/business idea with only $100) .
What is better than opt-ins is money in your pocket. What separates great ideas from good ideas is people are willing to PAY YOU MONEY up front prior to the creation of the product/service. Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are great places to facilitate this kind of testing and the best part is if the idea doesn’t tip, nobody is charged.
Conducting preliminary allows you to get a good glimpse of how your product/service is going to fare once it is released, it allows you to establish yourself as someone who’s working on the problem that is out there and gather early adopters you can connect and fine tune your end product so that it can be relate-able once launched.
One final note is that when running a trial, you have to be willing to spend money or time to get the results. People don’t just magically come to your landing page, you have to run ads to get them over to your survey/landing page/crowdfunding page. While some trials will flop and you may incur a lost, consider it a good thing as you’re just losing $100 as opposed to thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours a few months down road because you have an ugly idea.