Ideation vs Validation vs Execution
If you want to build a product or offer a service, where do you start?
In the beginning, everything is exciting and full of potential. You know you’ve thought up a great idea that people will love. You know you want to get started on it, but you’re a bit confused as to where to start.
Over the last four years, I’ve begun tech projects three different ways, one of which succeeded. This article is about the pros and cons of each method.
Ideation is the process of producing ideas. In the beginning, every project starts with one concept. Ideation goes beyond this: it’s the process that draws you into thinking about all of the various problems your idea could solve, all of the additional features you could add and all of the techniques you could use to market your project.
The problem with ideation is that it is a creative process, not a pragmatic one. Every time you think up a new idea, you feel a sense of progress. In fact, this is the illusion of progress. Everyone has brilliant ideas. Unless you’re a high-level consultant, your ideas have no value.
Note that ideation is different than iteration, which we’ll discuss below.
If you’ve read The Lean Startup, you understand the important of validation. Validation is the process of verifying that your prospective users would actually use your product. In theory, this is simple: talk with people who you think would use your product. What are their initial reactions? What questions do they have?
The first thing you have to do is remove your ego from the process. If you receive negative feedback, you’ve received valuable feedback. Don’t be defensive about your ideas at this stage. The best thing someone can offer you is their honest opinion.
There are two main difficulties in collecting feedback at this stage: (1) identifying people who would be potential users and (2) getting enough feedback to determine whether or not to pursue your project.
Let’s say you build out a landing page that explains what you’re building. Great. Now what? Well, unless you have a large personal following, you have to spend money to send traffic to your landing page.
Okay, so you’ve setup an ad and you’re sending traffic to your site. Let’s say you’re collecting email addresses for when the project launches. Here’s something to consider: a good email open-rate is around 15 to 20 percent. A good click-through rate is 5 to 10 percent. How many email addresses do you need to make this a viable option? (Hint: a lot.)
Some entrepreneurs espouse the buy-before-it’s-available option where they offer an early-adopter price. This usually only works if the brand is already trusted or they’re selling a physical product. Otherwise, this is extremely hard to pull off.
However, there is one good metric to track: conversation rate. If a particular ad is sending a good amount of traffic to your landing page and a good percentage of those visits are entering their email addresses, you can rightly assume that there’s a lot of interest.
In this context, execution is the development process. Simply stated, you’re building an MVP of your product. The important thing is that you’re building around the core concept of your idea and not adding miscellaneous features (affectionally known as “feature creep” or “launch procrastination.”)
So, where to start?
Here’s the playbook:
- Come up with the core concept of a project.
- Chat with 5 to 10 trusted advisors or potential users.
- If the feedback is mostly skeptical, pocket the idea for a later time.
- If the feedback is mostly positive, begin building the project. (If the project is outside of your domain expertise, find a technical co-founder. No, this is not easy, but it’s better than spending money on having someone else build it that doesn’t believe in your idea.)
- During the build process, generate ideas and talk with as many potential users as possible. You will only have a good idea about what you’re building as you’re building it. If potential users have a common request, add that as a requirement to your MVP. Also make sure to recruit these people as beta users.
- Launch your landing page with your beta. Doing so allows interested users to begin using your product right away! This is the best validation you can possibly have. Treat these people well and never charge them for using your product regardless of future price points.
- Once you have beta users, talk with them as much as possible. What do they think is missing? Are there obvious bugs that need to be fixed? Importantly: what confusion is there about getting started?
- Use this feedback to develop a great onboarding process. Onboarding is something you do during beta. You need it before you go live.
- Once you feel good about your beta product, launch. While you should be doing some basic marketing before this point, now is when you concentrate on it. Don’t try to develop and market at the same time (unless you have a big enough team).
This is the playbook I used to launch narrow.io. It’s the same strategy I’m using to launch my current project, Packstack. Packstack lets travel bloggers create embeddable packing lists with affiliate links.
Every entrepreneur is essentially self-taught. Follow advice, but make sure to try new things as well. In reality, every “playbook” should be loosely followed. Use what works for you and ignore the rest.
As a final note, don’t pay for courses on entrepreneurship. If there’s a specific skill you need to learn, invest in it, but don’t be sucked in by people promising the world for $299.
I’m sure I missed some things so please share your feedback!