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If we build it, why would anyone care?

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Of course they will come

I was sitting in Verve Coffee, listening to a founder tell me about her startup. I’ve had these conversations before and they can be challenging. The founder is seeking advice and I want to help. But it can be hard to digest her idea, its obstacles and opportunities, so that I can discover the key questions that’ll lead to a productive discussion.

The Field of Dreams Test

The Field of Dreams Test is a diagnostic tool that helps me organize key questions and considerations about a startup. I focus on these three areas:

  • user experience
  • economics

User Pain

Instead of just describing the primary use case or the user’s problem, I frame it as a “user pain”. People are more likely to seek and accept help for pain than for a use case.

  • Can the user live with it? Is it an inconvenience or something they need addressed?
  • What are the root causes? What are the symptoms?

User Experience

I suggest thinking about user experience instead of defining a solution. It’s too tempting to dream about the future when designing a solution, detached from the user’s needs.

  • Is the experience good enough to displace alternatives? How is it different?
  • Is it a joyous experience?


A startup should have a plausible hypothesis for economic viability. Before worrying about detailed business plans, a startup needs to assess the basics: cost, growth and success criteria.

  • What is the effort for a user to switch to the product? What is the learning curve? What is the overhead of disrupting existing habits, importing of data or building a new network?
  • What are competitors’ costs? Is it easy for a competitor to copy the startup’s ideas?

These are not new ideas nor the only ones to consider. But focussing on user pain, user experience and economics can clear your thinking.

Applying the Field of Dreams Test

I have multiple Google accounts. I use Google Gmail, Drive, Calendar, etc. Sometimes I can’t remember where a piece of information is. Or I want to find all my data on a topic. I’d like to search my data, across all Google products (and ideally, across all my Google accounts).

Mailbox: A Mixed Example

Mailbox launched in February of 2013 and Dropbox acquired them in March of 2013. I’ll highlight a few aspects of a Field of Dreams analysis for Mailbox.

MailBox UI, from Slashgear article

How will you use this tool?

The Field of Dreams Test is an approach to evaluating problem, solution and effort, in the context of startups. It has guided me when hearing pitches and helped me advise founders.



Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Atatiana Jefferson, Tamir Rice, Bettie Jones, Botham Jean

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Christian Sepulveda

espresso fanatic, coder (still), VP Engineering Bastille, …yeah, espresso comes first. https://christiansepulveda.com