Ask for feedback on your idea

Last week I talked about determining if your idea is valuable, but the focus was really on whether you think your idea is valuable and if you think others will think the same.

This week, I’m going to talk about the next step of determining if your idea is valuable: asking others for feedback about it.

We entrepreneur types (myself included) tend to over-estimate the value of our ideas, especially when we are inexperienced. Every idea is the next billion dollar startup. And this kind of thinking usually leads us to delay including others in the process of forming our startup.

And by including, I don’t mean merely telling a few people how great it will be. I mean genuinely seeking feedback — good or bad — by presenting your idea to multiple people and saying “do your worst.”

We do this at the local Meetup I organize here in Jackson with something called Reverse Pitches. Someone with an idea will pitch their idea to the group so they can receive feedback from many people at once. There’s usually a mix of praise, criticism, and thoughtful questions for the presenter to consider as they pursue their startup.

We need this kind of reality check. It’s critical. It can be really encouraging and spur us to continue on with our startup. It also helps us avoid problems — some of which could kill our startup. And sometimes, it can help us avoid wasting our time by pursuing something we shouldn’t.

So who do you ask?

1. Trusted friends and family
Pick a few friends and family members and pitch your idea to them. Ask them to be honest and objective with you (they still won’t be fully objective most likely, but it should at least make them a little more objective). Ask them what they like about it, what they dislike about it, what they would do to improve it if it was their idea, if they think it could work, what problems they foresee, etc.

On this note, go ahead and pick two or three people and form an informal advisory team. This team should be made up of a few people you trust and who will provide thoughtful, objective feedback about your idea as you progress. It’s a good idea to pick a few people who have some experience with your type of idea, or at least some general business/startup experience. If you can, I’d recommend having one person who has founded a startup with paying customers, one person who understands technology (especially as it relates to startups), and one person with experience in sales and marketing.

2. Your target market
We haven’t covered much about defining your market yet, but if you already have a general sense of who would be a customer of your startup, it is very valuable to get feedback from that type of person. I’ll cover this more later, but you can get a head start by asking some of the same questions I mentioned above to your potential customers. A quick note here: skip this for now if you think anyone and everyone could be your customer.

But what about protecting my idea?

“Should I have my lawyer draw up a NDA?”
No. That’s an unnecessary expense at this time.

“But what if I share my idea with them and they steal it?”
They probably won’t.

“But what if they do?”
Assuming you have an idea worth stealing, and assuming someone you share it with tries to steal it…so what? There are many factors that play into a startup succeeding. Very little of your success will be because of your great idea. Good ideas are a dime a dozen. People who make them happen are one in a million. The reward of great feedback is far greater than the risk of someone stealing your idea.

“I’m still going to make everyone I share this with sign an NDA.”
It’s your funeral. This will just hinder the process of getting valuable feedback. Most people (me included), especially acquaintances or strangers who fit the persona of your potential customers, are not going to want their time wasted with this kind of thing. Whipping out a stack of paper for someone who’s trying to help you to sign is rude and awkward. Also, spending time and money on this is very wasteful, and even if someone violates your NDA, do you really have the time and money to pursue them in court?

Agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts? Comment and share them with me!

Until next time,
 — J

P.S. My pick of the week: The Logitech Z313 Speaker System — I picked this up this past weekend, and considering the $35 price tag I’m very impressed. My wife and I have had some light jazz playing as background music in our room — they sound great! Super easy to set up, too.

Links worth your time:
The Startup Playbook (Y Combinator)
Trickle-down workaholism in startups (David Heinemeier Hansson)
This Morning Routing will Save you 20+ Hours Per Week (Benjamin Hardy)

This article is part of my “How to Start a Startup as a Non-Technical Founder” series. You can view all my articles on my blog here.