Why you should test every business idea with 25 people

Have a new business idea or idea for a new product?

STOP!

Before you go any further with developing the business idea you should talk to at least 25 people who you think are potential customers or users. You want to know as early as possible if you are solving a problem or fulfilling a need that actual customers have. You want to avoid a situation where you keep your idea secret, work on it for a year and then find out you were making one feature perfect when everyone really wanted something else.

So once you’re able to clearly describe your solution in less than 2–3 minutes, have an example picture of the new product or some other clear version of what the product is going to be, start talking to people.

What happens in these conversations will determine what you should do next with the business idea.

Expect 10–15 people to give you solid feedback that mostly covers topics you expected and stay on the surface of their needs. They won’t seem excited about your idea, may be polite or may say “it’s like some other product already out there.” Some may even say your idea sucks. Accept all of this feedback and move on.

You’ll probably have 5–10 that seem interested and a little bit excited. They will describe their problem in broad detail and even offer up some suggestions for how to make your solution better. They will talk about other associated problems and give you ideas for solving those too. Take note of their suggestions because they will become added features or part of the bigger solution later on. For now, you’re solution isn’t quite getting to the core problem for these people and they probably won’t be the early adopters. However they should become customers once the product is out and has proven useful.

The people you’ll want to pay the most attention to are the 5 that get really excited about the business idea or solution to their problem. I call these people the “Fab 5”. They will deeply describe their pain points clearly without much probing, as well as why these things are such an obvious pain for them. If your idea hits the mark, they will ask if you actually “have it ready”, “how long before I could get it” and “can I buy it now”. These are your early adopters who will buy the first version of your product or solution even if it’s not perfect. You’ll also be able to identify the pain points they have in common so you can identify and segment other future customers just like them.

Before moving on with developing anything … STOP!

If you didn’t find your Fab 5 then you have one of two problems. It could mean that your business idea or product isn’t hitting the mark. You need to refine it based on the feedback you received so far, then go back and see if you can find a new Fab 5. It could also mean that you’re solution is a good one, just not for the initial customers you thought it was meant for. In this case you need to find another set of 25 people in a different segment and start talking.

What happens if you’ve talked to people, refined your business idea and done it again a few times … but still haven’t found your Fab 5? As my dad used to say, “that dog won’t hunt”. You’re solution is either not solving a real problem or you don’t fully understand your target market and need to go back to the business idea drawing board.