Charles Dickens, Startup Ideas and the Importance of Focussing Your Energy

By Shaun Symm, October 23, 2015
Lightbult on a piece of paper with words It seemed like a good idea at the time

Charles Dickens once said,

“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”

Damn, he hit the nail on the head. Ideas are easy. Really easy. It’s getting to know an idea intimately that is hard.

I have a task in Asana where I keep a note of startup ideas that pop in to my head. I started it earlier this year. Not every idea makes it on to the list as I can erase them from memory very quickly after a short evaluation process that happens in my head.

It goes something like this:

  • Does it just sound good or does it solve a real problem?
  • Think hard Shaun, have you seen this before?
  • Who would buy this?
  • Seriously, would they actually pay for it?
  • Is it a vitamin or a painkiller?

Even after this process my ideas list is long. The point here is that ideas are really easy. Everyone has them and if you're focussed on startups and innovation you are bound to dream up multiple ideas each day. Even if you only have one idea a year but you’ve decided to act on it, the trick is determining sooner rather than later if that idea has potential or not.

Get intimate with your startup concept

Let’s re-visit what Dickens said. Your sudden ‘brain explosion’ lacks information. The idea you just fell in love with is just an assumption. You need real feedback from customers to make informed decisions. Do they have a problem that needs solving? Does your idea solve it? Does it solve the problem to a point where they’ll pay you for the solution?

Being lean: an example of startup validation

Lean startup methodology and Mininum Viable Product have been around for a long time. Using these methodologies to test your idea will potentially save you thousands of dollars and a lot of time.

Here’s an example of how we’re currently validating a startup idea:

We are in the process of working on an idea of our own. The idea came from one of our frontend web developers. He wants to solve a problem that he has with his day-to-day workflow. A problem that we think is experienced by thousands of frontend developers around the world.

We’re fortunate that as startup web developers we knew after the first conversation what design & development time was required to get version 1 to market. We also have the internal resources to be able to design the website and develop the application.

But that’s not where we’re going to start.

We already understand the problem and know exactly who our target audience will be. We have a unique insight as to how the web development teams in two large companies we work with would make use of the new product.

Great, so let’s build it!

Hmmm, NO!

Considering we really understand the problem and are solving an issue for people in an industry we currently work in you would think we have enough to start developing a minimum viable product.

We could easily jump in and start wire framing, designing and developing the first version of the product. But we won’t. We have a far more powerful first step to ensure we don’t waste our time.

Sell before you build

We know exactly who our potential customers are. We know where they are and we even know some of them personally. We’ve also decided on a way to explain the concept in a short, concise and easy to understand way.

So, our first step is to go out and make a sale before we even build this product. We already have 2 meetings set up with the objective being:

  1. Make a sale …there is no better validation than this
  2. Try to validate a price point. This is going to be more difficult and is something we can test further once the product is live (if we prove our initial assumptions to be correct) but these initial conversations will help us determine if the concept is financially viable

Validate your startup idea

The example above might not suit your startup, but there are many ways to get early validation signals. It really depends on the concept, your target audience and the problem you are solving.

If you do decide to jump in and start developing your startup before you’ve done any real validation be sure to cut out all frills and unnecessary features. Get something to market quickly so that you can start testing and validating.

Remember, ideas are easy. Everyone has them. Get intimate with your idea. Speak to it. Find out if it has potential. Once you do, get to market quickly and start learning even quicker.

Image credit: Mindy Johnson on Flickr under Creative Commons License.
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