How to build a successful company, Part #2

How not to f*#k up when starting up!

Raad Mobrem
Jun 1, 2016 · 6 min read

***Wow. The response to my first post has been INCREDIBLE. Thank you so much!***

This is a continuation of my previous post, “How to Build a Successful Business, Part #1

Why listen to me? My name is Raad Mobrem and I am a successful tech entrepreneur. I raised $3m from investors for my last company Lettuce and sold it to QuickBooks for $30m. I’ve advised and invested in many companies, helping them grow to be multi-million dollar machines.

— — —

Part 2: Yes! I found a problem that I can solve, but is it really worth solving? 😀

James: Hey Raad! I have this idea and I think it’s going to be huge!!

Raad: Oh yeah?

James: Yeah. It’s an app that allows me to watch a movie with any of my friends from around the world. In addition, I can chat with them while watching the movie, in real time.

Raad: Hmmm…

James: I recently moved to Seattle and can’t watch movies with my old roommates anymore — it’s a big problem for me. I told my friends about it and they all love the idea as well.

Raad: Is that a big problem though?

James: Yes! Of course it is! Everyone watches movies. It’s a big problem.

James seems really determined and excited about his new idea! However, he hasn’t even come close to validating this concept and I’ll tell you why.

Issue #1: He is telling people about his idea and not asking them about the problem. His excitement has clouded his judgement and prevented him from asking good questions. Don’t do this!!!

By interrogating the idea a little further we can quickly poke holes in his thinking and learn that it doesn’t really solve a big problem for a lot of people:

  • How often do people talk with one another during a movie? Not much. Thus this chat solution would be solving a non-existing problem.
  • How often would the average person coordinate with friends to watch a movie? Not enough. My guess is that most people in the 13–24 age group watch movies with friends randomly. And most people over 25 watch movies with significant others that live with them, not friends.
  • Would you and your friends stay dedicated enough to coordinate a watching session on a monthly basis? In my honest opinion, I doubt it. We have so much going on in our lives…and as mentioned before, we usually watch movies randomly.

Issue #2: The entrepreneur asked his friends…when he should have asked a range of people that do not know him.

James asked his friends and they all said something to the extent of, “I love it. I would totally use that!” This happens all the time! Friends support one another and encourage each other at the surface level. But the act of asking friends about an idea usually fails to tell us if a lot of other people have a similar problem.

We tend to get overly excited about our ideas, get lazy about who we ask for feedback, and fail to properly validate the basics:

Is this a big problem that a lot of other people have?

This leads to building a product/company with a shitty foundation that decreases your chances of success. Don’t be this person 😀.

Here are some steps on how to validate a problem and ultimately your product:

Step #1: Identify a few different sets of people (also known as demographics) that might deal with the same problem.

Our problem at WeDo: people have to get a lot of stuff done everyday.

We brainstormed over a few days and initially decided that college students, mothers, event planners, etc. probably felt the same pain in a significant way.

Step #2: Talk to these different sets of people. Ask them about the problem first, not the idea — do this at least 500 times.

My team and I walked around UCLA for a few days and talked to hundreds of students. We asked them if they found it hard to manage all the things they needed to get done…their response — “sort of”. Some understood the problem, but not that many. This was not very promising, but looking at the big picture, this saved us a lot time and money in the future marketing events.

We then talked to mothers and asked the same question…their overall response — a big “yes”! They were so excited about question that they started sharing ideas on how to build a solution. We got the same response from event planners, and many other types of potential customers. This was just the kind of customer validation we were looking for!

Pro-tip: If the person you are talking to starts explaining the problem in detail, you know it’s a big problem that needs to be solved.

Pro-tip: Pay close attention to the way the person describes the problem. We learned that most mothers use the word “to-do” instead of “task” and this helped us later on when doing some additional validation (see step #5).

Step #3: Ask the people you’re talking to on how they would solve the problem.

This does two things for you: (a) it inspires them to walk you through their process or routine, and (b) you’ll get ideas for potential features, straight from the customer!

Pro-tip: If the person starts suggesting ideas on how to fix parts of the process without you needing to ask, you know it’s a big “BIG” problem that needs to be solved.

Step #4: Share your idea with them — but ask them to be brutally honest on why it sucks.

You’ve now gotten suggestions on how to fix the problem and it’s somewhat consistent with your idea for a product. But you want to make sure. At this point you should share your idea with them, but ask them to tell you why it sucks! The main reason to do this is because you want to set the precedent that they don’t have to be positive but should instead find the gaps or issues with your proposed solution.

The worst thing you can do is ask for their opinion with a loaded question (i.e. Do you like my idea for a to-do list app?) because this only guides them to give you words of encouragement — and this doesn’t help you in building a better product at all.

Pro-tip: For a more advanced way to share your product idea with potential users, build a quick prototype with a tool like Invision App. Getting product feedback (in addition to everything mentioned above) is best.

Step #5: Find out if people are searching for this kind of product or talking about this problem online.

Now it’s time to figure out if there are enough people talking about this problem online. There a few great ways to do this:

(1) Google Keyword Planner → Create an account → Input keywords (ex: to do list, task manager, etc) into the section titled “Get search volume data and trends.” → As a general rule, if the search volume is in the hundred of thousands per month or more, then that’s great news.

Google Keyword Planner

(2) Search for key words on twitter → If you notice a bunch of mentions with hearts/retweets, then it shows that this is a topic of interest and engagement.

(3) Find the forums that your targeted demographics might visit and see if there are any related discussions.

Now that you’ve you learned some simple tips on validating your problem/idea, go out and do it! It’s not very complicated and you’d be surprised at the number of people willing to talk you!

The next step will be to define our customer (to be continued)…

We will continue this in Part #3 (coming soon) of How to build a successful company.

If you liked this and want more:

Do me a solid ❤ Heart it, 💬 comment on it, and/or follow me 😀

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

Raad Mobrem

Written by

Founded Lettuce (acquired by Intuit).

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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