The Field of Dreams Test

We all know the line; but a startup should ask: “If we build it, will anyone care?” It can be very tempting to jump to developing an idea and then get caught up in the excitement of creative flow and possibilities. But you could waste a lot of time (and precious resources) building distractions or, in the worst case, pursuing an idea that is doomed.

I suggest a simple model for sanity checking a startup idea and plan: The Field of Dreams Test. (It’s also one of my most important North Star Questions.) As noted, the key question is “If you build it, will anyone care?” This question is aligned with Lean Startup/Lean Thinking; MVP’s are mechanisms to explore and discover what users care about and how to help them.

But since there various considerations and numerous questions when considering MVP’s and evaluating a startup idea, I like to focus on 3 factors.

  1. User Pain
  2. User Experience
  3. Economics

User Pain

What is the problem that your idea addresses? I like to frame it as a “pain”, as ideally a user would be highly motivated to try something that might address a pain. But some ideas don’t have to address “pain”, in the simplest sense of the word. Photo sharing is an example.

  • What is the frequency and severity of user’s pain?
  • Can the user live with it? Is it just an inconvenience or something they really need addressed?
  • What are the root causes? What are the symptoms?

Diagnosing a root cause can be difficult, but only addressing symptoms is problematic. A user will abandon a “solution” that addresses a symptom; sticky experiences tend to address a root pain or need.

User Experience

  • How will you address the user’s pain? (The cure must be much better than the disease.)
  • Is the experience good enough to displace alternatives?
  • Is it a joyous experience?

The greater the experience, the less intense the “pain” needs to be for a user to adopt your offering. Also, when building MVP’s and having to make tradeoffs, I suggest trying to emphasize the best user experience for the root case of the user’s pain; I’ve found users are more likely to forgive other product shortcomings based on the more you deliver a good experience for their primary need.

Economics

You should have some plausible idea of how your startup idea will be economically viable. Consider both the user’s costs and those of the startup. While the actual monetization mechanism may differ from speculative plans, I’d be wary of naive idealism that jumps from “we have an interesting idea” to “of course there will be a way to monetize millions of user.”

While it is true that millions of users represent economic value for a business, such thinking ignores the lynchpin assumption of getting millions of users (i.e. Customer Acquisition Costs — CAC).

You don’t need a detailed business plan, particularly at the outset. But considering the economics, while perhaps a splash of cold water, is a critical guide to decision making.

(For more on startup economics, I like A16Z’s 16 Startup Metrics and Dave McClure’s Startup Metrics for Pirates.)

It’s a Sanity Check

Startups can be a rush of creative energy and very intense experiences. Diving right in and not coming up for air is an easy thing to do. I suggest this simple test to help guide you. It can guard against the “yada yada yada” phenomenon of ignoring blindspots (be it out of fear or complexity).

As with everything, iterate. Any startup idea is an evolving hypothesis. You’ll start with imperfect and incomplete ideas. Hopefully, with each iteration, you’ll discover and understand what your users need and how to satisfy them.


Originally published at justideas.io.