For entrepreneurs, the only thing worse than your idea failing is not knowing if it did. 75% of new consumer products fail, but what percentage of entrepreneurs actually figure out if their idea has potential or not? From my experience, not many.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the chance to experiment with a variety of startup ideas — from my own apparel brand in high school, an event photo sharing app in college, to most recently selling premium hand-made chai packets. While the adrenaline rush of bringing those ideas to life was intoxicating, the process of validating them sobered me up quick.
Like many other entrepreneurs, I read enough articles, watched enough videos, and listened to enough How I Built This episodes to know that determining product-market-fit (PMF) was the next step post-launch (aka, figuring out if there’s people who actually give a sh*t about what I created). Despite knowing that, I always felt stuck on day 1 post-launch.
The momentum of creating the product didn’t carry forward into validating it. Of course, its not supposed to be easy — the “measure” part of the “build, measure, iterate” PMF framework is known to be challenging. But when I reflect back on own experience, the challenge of validating my ideas isn’t what’s surprising, but rather how unproportionately more difficult it was to “measure” than to “build” them. Every single time, despite the hustle, irrational passion, and Mamba Mentality, the process of validating my idea was a momentum killer.
Building your idea was not always easy, its become easier.
Bringing ideas to life has experienced a Moore’s Law type growth over the past 10+ years. Year-over-year, the velocity and fidelity at which creators can bring their ideas to life has improved drastically (nobody’s ideating on paper napkins anymore 🙃). I experienced it. Launching my chai startup in 2019 was significantly faster and easier than launching my apparel idea back in 2012. Online marketplaces like Amazon & Alibaba have reduced the time it takes to source raw materials, platforms like Shopify have removed the micro-operational barriers to set up an e-commerce site, and websites like Wix have eliminated the technical requirements to beautifully showcase your idea online.
While innovations like these have reduced the activation energy needed to go from idea to product, the difficulty of measuring the validity of those ideas has remained constant.
To measure, you need people, the right people.
Honestly, the “measure” phase should be as fun as the “build” phase. It’s an experiment! You’re testing whether or not there’s people out there who give a sh*t about what you’re solving and how you’re solving it.
To measure or validate your idea, you need 3 things:
- A hypothesis about the problem you believe exists and your solution to address it.
- People experiencing the problem you’re solving.
- Results that signal the potential of your idea and/or what to improve on.
Finding people is what makes the “measure” phase a momentum killer. It’s not just about finding people who think your idea is cool (what typically happens). To yield conclusive results, you need to find early adopters — qualified people, people who are:
- Experiencing your problem
- Interested in exploring potential solutions
- Willing to share actionable feedback
But actually finding those early adopters is a difficult task. It requires significant time, resources, and money to find a sizeable sample of them. To keep the momentum rolling, many entrepreneurs (including myself) either solicit feedback family and friends to get a quick win or bypass the “measure” phase completely and go head-first into marketing…hoping there’s a market for their idea (fingers-crossed).
Ready, set, Instagram!
Instagram has found its way into becoming part of the startup launch playbook. “I’ll just create an Instagram account, post awesome daily content, cold DM some influencers, spend money on paid ads, build my following and the customers will come.”
Another way to read that is “toss the grenade, duck, close your eyes, and hope for the best.” No matter how thoughtfully and diligently you approach your Instagram strategy, relying on it early on is a false start. It requires entrepreneurs to focus their limited resources on the wrong thing — marketing at scale, pre-validation.
To get noticed “on the ‘gram”, you have to have a sizeable following (we’re talking 10k+ at least). To do that, you need to invest your:
- Limited time to post engaging content consistently (daily or ~3x per week)
- Limited money on paid ads, promotions or a marketing expert to create content for your page
Given how saturated Instagram is, building a following doesn’t happen overnight — it takes months (if it ever does). It requires you focus on pushing your idea to the masses instead of pulling in the right people to validate it. You start believing follows equals customers. You find yourself content creating, promoting and cold-messaging 10–12 hours a day…for several months…only to find crickets in your DM and small jumps in your # of followers. You feel exhausted with your idea still un-validated. Momentum killed.
But that’s the playbook we’re taught. It’s the one people talk about because a small group of companies had success with it. But most importantly, it’s the playbook people start with because there frankly isn’t a better option.
Taking a play from dating apps.
Apps like Bumble disrupted the dating scene by eliminating the wasted effort once required to find people you’re interested in and people who are interested in you. Before dating apps, the process of finding potential matches was daunting. You’d have to put in the effort to go out, muster up the courage to chat with people until you clicked with someone, and then figure out if they were single, ready to mingle and attracted to you. And more often than not, a few hours in and an expensive bar tab later, you learn that person is not available, not interested in you, or not your type. All that effort, wasted.
The same issue exists in the startup world — matching your idea with people who give a sh*t about them requires significant time, money and energy for an unlikely reward. You spend so much time scavenging the web to find people or groups that match your criteria, carefully craft messages introducing your idea (each with a personal touch), and offer promotions to get people’s attention, only to come home to an empty inbox. Just like dating, entrepreneurs spend more time trying to find the right people than actually connecting with them to validate their idea.
But also like dating, there’s a clear need and opportunity to solve this match-making problem. Bridging the gap between ideas and early adopters can finally help entrepreneurs carry the momentum forward from building their ideas to validating them.
So what now?
I want to tackle this problem. I’m confident that:
- The problem is real (I experienced it 8 times)
- Ideas need early adopters and early adopters want ideas
- I won’t stop thinking about it until I give it a try 🤓
I’m excited to build a community where ideas and adopters can meet. I’m still in brainstorm mode, but you can check out my progress here!
If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it others who might like it too— let’s get the momentum going!
I like Hot Cheetos & startup ideas equally. Let’s connect!