tom_haverford

How to validate that awesome business idea you have

How many times have you had an awesome idea for a business (that one you just “knew” everyone would want)?

 

Instead of testing it, you decide to take the plunge and spend money on building a website, perhaps hiring a developer, and even incorporating. After all, you need to look “official” if people are going to take you seriously, right?

 

So you finally finish the website, complete with Joe’s Bomb-Diggity Consulting, LLC at the footer, and launch.

 

And then…

 

[crickets]

 

No one’s knocking on your door…

 

You soon realize you’ve just spent a ton of money making something no one wants. 😮

 

So what do you do now???

 

I made this exact mistake a lot until I learned the importance of validating an idea before pursuing it. In an effort to help you validate your business idea, I’ll share some of my own experiences so you can learn from them.

 

The Moon Through My Window

 

I used to teach English as a second language in Japan. During my time there, I developed a music-related activity, where I took the vocabulary my students were learning and wrote original songs that included those words. I’d then play the songs in class, and the students would have to listen along and fill in the blanks on worksheets where I omitted the vocabulary.

 

They LOVED it. So did the teachers. I even got on the radio and in the newspaper for it!

 

I later created an entire album for the project and called it The Moon Through My Window. There are still teachers in Japan who use it today.

 

So what went wrong?

 

Two things come to mind.

 

First, while people loved the album, I hadn’t validated that it would be something they would BUY. There’s a BIG difference. The album may be a great luxury, for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s an immediate necessity.

 

Second, I tried to market it to EVERYONE. Big mistake.

 

Anyone who’s an English learner can benefit from this! Right??

 

What I’ve learned is that when you try to market your product or service to everyone, it reaches no one. When everyone’s your audience, no one is.

 

Of course, I enjoyed the creative process of writing and recording the album anyway. But when you’ve spent months working and spending money on producing something you think may evolve into a sellable product, it sucks when it doesn’t work out.

 

And then, you’re just pissing people off at that point because you’re frustrated and asking them to buy something they don’t want or need.

 

If I were to go back and pursue The Moon Through My Window again (which I still might do at some point), I’d use similar validation methods to the following…

 

Validation Station

 

Let’s contrast The Moon Through My Window project with the validation methods I used for Connect and Haul.

 

I knew there was a demand for junk removal services because we get inquiries at Friedland all the time from people who need them. However, I didn’t know if the people who own the junk removal services (haulers) would need a lead generation service. Plus, there’s already other services out there for contractors, like Angie’s List, Thumbtack and HomeAdvisor, so isn’t that market already saturated? Is it not worth validating the idea then?

 

I think this is where a lot of people get tripped up. But my product already exists? It’d be preposterous to pursue it now, right?

 

Bologna, I say!

 

You read that right. Bologna!

 

So, what’s the first step?

 

Well, the great part about situations like these is that your competition has already done a lot of the work for you. Now all you have to do is figure out where their products lack, and fix those problems.

 

And then you say, Great Mike, so you can fix those problems now with an awesome new website, right??

 

No, stop! I don’t even know what problems to fix yet!

 

Instead, the first thing I did was call the haulers I know that have amazing reviews, and ASK them about their experiences.

 

Hey [Amazing Hauler], I have an idea for an online lead generation service specifically for junk removal services, but before pursuing it, I’d like to ask you about your experiences.

 

Have you ever used an online lead generation service? If so, how was your experience? What did you like? What did you dislike?

 

Something amazing happens when you ask people about their experiences and what they want. They tell you.

 

It turns out many of the people I called had, indeed, used online lead generation services before, and weren’t too thrilled with them.

 

So I asked, Okay, if I fix those problems by building a service that does X instead, would that be beneficial?

 

The responses I got were to the tune of, Well…yeah, definitely!

 

Awesome. With the information the haulers gave me, I was able to plan out how to create a service that would actually benefit junk removal services. What would a website for this service look like? Can I get it up and running quickly?

 

Now…asking people to buy something

 

Here comes the part that makes a lot of people nervous, but is SO essential for validating the demand for a product or service.

 

Later that day, I contacted the haulers again who I’d spoken with, and said, I know how to build this and make something truly beneficial for junk removal services. But I need a financial commitment first. PayPal me $XX, and you have my word, I will make this work for you. If it doesn’t work, I’ll pay you back in full. [Side note: know you can deliver before doing this!]

 

But Mike, you say, how can you ask someone to buy something you haven’t even made yet? That’s crazy talk!

 

Listen, sassy pants. Guess what?

 

I had three sales in 48 hours.

 

That tells me there’s people who want this service enough TO BUY IT. I consider that a validated idea. (thanks, Noah)

 

Had the response been, Thanks, but get back to me when you’ve built something, that would have been fine, too. I’d have simply moved on to the next idea. Minimal amount of time and $0 spent. See what I mean?

 

Wow, okay Mike. So…you then went and spent money on building a fancy website, right??

 

Wait, not yet! Dude, seriously, someone needs to slap your hand. Stop reaching for your wallet. We’re almost there, but first…

 

I wanted to work through the process of the service by using free and simple methods. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish with free resources like gmail and Facebook.

 

So I posted a video on Facebook of me explaining the service. [simulating advertising to build users/traffic]

 

It turned out a buddy of mine was in need of this exact thing.

 

So I sent him and email with questions, and asked him to reply with the answers. Then, I blind copy forwarded his reply to the haulers who paid me to subscribe to the service. [simulating a website that would do this automatically]

 

My buddy connected with one of the junk removal services and had an amazing experience.

 

See what I did there? Using simple and free methods first helped me work through what the eventual website would look and feel like.

 

THEN, I built the first version of the website, which was still minimal and cost close to nothing. Most importantly, though, it WORKED, and now I felt confident that I could deliver on the promise I’d made to the junk removal services.

 

It wasn’t until Connect and Haul had worked enough times (for both the junk removal services and the users) that I spent some money to build a more complex and scaled version of the website.

 

What’s the takeaway

 

Again, the goal here isn’t to tell you I have all the answers. I don’t. Not even close. But I’m happy to share my experiences so you can use them for your own ideas, and perhaps dodge some of the mistakes I’ve made.

 

I want to hear from you. What are some business ideas you’ve learned from that failed? If you’re not comfortable sharing them, what part of the demand validation process is the hardest for you?

 

Stay validated,

Mike

 

Ps – This blog is about my journey while growing my startup, Connect and Haul. It’s a free search engine to help people connect with great junk removal services near them. Need a washer and dryer hauled out of a basement? Need to liquidate a house? Give it shot by posting a job for free. 🙂

 

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