Where do I start with my idea?

I get this question a lot and those who ask usually possess infectious excitement about an idea, are new to product development and remain convinced that their addressable market of customers is massive.

The irony is that 90% of people who ask where to start, don’t.

Deep down they know why and it usually comes down to three reasons.

Fear is the first reason (and there’s an antidote)

The first reason is fear. People fear what they don’t know and more specifically, people fear what others will think of their ideas.

I don’t like venturing into motivational territory because what’s usually said isn’t practical but in this case, I’ll offer two thoughts that always prove true.

The greatest triumphs live just on the other side of one’s fears.

And when you break it down further, fear only plays a significant role when the person believes that the only way forward is all-or-nothing. When it comes to building a company, it’s rarely ‘all in’. The reality is that it’s a series of small experiments and a few successes for every ton of failures.

Here’s the second thought:

The only person who cares enough to be anxious about your ideas is – you guessed it – YOU!

And here’s the antidote for fear in entrepreneurship. Just ask yourself two simple questions:

On the downside, if going from idea to business isn’t all-or-nothing and it’s a series of small experiments, what have you got to lose?

Then on the upside, what happens if someone is willing to pay it?

Feel free to post a photo in the comments with the ‘oh yeah, he’s right’ look on your face 😉

Time is the second reason

As I often write, time is THE most valuable asset.

The idea of ‘finding the time’ is the first quandary that soon-to-be founders have to negotiate and I understand that adding a new experiment to juggling family, work or study just adds to the trade-offs of each 24-hour day.

But I can tell you from experience that founders who work in their businesses full-time spend much of their life optimising for time. And the reason they do this is because they’re driven by a deep interest in the problem they’re trying to solve. The sooner they learn, the sooner they’ll achieve their end game.

You can’t know why time is so important until you start.

And, it’s all talk

This is the third reason why people don’t start.

These people romanticise startup culture. They are the groupies. They may harbour fear but more often than not, they are looking for a tribe, not a problem to solve.

The 30-Day Challenge. Are You Up For It?

It’s time to think differently about how to validate an idea and here’s the punchline: The sooner someone pays for your idea, the better.

With that in mind, the 30-Day Challenge has a basic hypothesis: An idea should be pursued if someone (you don’t know) pays to pre-order your proposed product or service.

The way to go about validating this hypothesis isn’t rocket surgery.

It’s not about building out an entirely new product or service.

It’s about learning and evolving as quickly as you can.

You have 30 days starting today.

This timeframe is designed to acquaint you with the value of time and how much you can learn in a month.

During the next month, there are three major steps you need to take. Each step reinforces the other. In other words, the first step informs the second step and so on.

There’s a high chance you’ll go through this cycle (i.e. step 1, then step 2, then step 3) at least five times during the 30 days. This is because you’ll develop a habit of iterating as you receive feedback on each version of your future product or service.

Step 1: Get Clarity On 1 Page

Go to leanstack.com and use bullet points to answer, as precisely as possible, the questions asked in their business model canvas.

This canvas is the first version of your business plan.

It’s all you need.

And yes, it’s a waste of your time writing a multipage business plan at this stage because you don’t know if there’s anyone willing to buy what you’re selling.

And in the spirit of tough love, if you’re a first-time entrepreneur and you think you’re focused on what matters to move an idea into a money-making business, just look back at the number of ideas you had in the last 48 hours and the distraction that’s caused.

Get clarity on your business model by spending 20 minutes answering these questions and then share it with two other people you know, who have started a business before, and ask for their feedback.

Refine the canvas based on their feedback. This will be the first of many refinements.

PRO TIP: Get someone else to research your idea.

If you can’t do this, the next steps won’t be of much help.

Step 2: Learn as much as possible

This step involves learning from two different groups of people.

The first group are ‘friendlies’ and the second group are customers.

Get your friendlies on board

  • Create a list of 10 people who you think will provide you with rapid and honest feedback about your idea 5 times in the next month.
  • Send each ‘friendly’ an email asking them to be part of your idea development team for the next 30 days. Give them permission to be brutally honest with you on every level of your idea. Be sure to tell them that they can expect five emails from you in the next month and that you would appreciate a response within 24 hours of receiving the email.
  • Make them an offer to return the favour.

This is your way of setting expectations with people close to you. Expect 5 of the 10 people to respond to each email. If the other five respond that’s great but don’t expect it, life will get in their way.

The schedule of emails I send to friendlies usually includes:

Day 3

Thank you and request for feedback on business model canvas (share it from leanstack.com or download and send PDF copy)

Day 6

Request to review version one of website (more on that later)

Day 10

Request to review version two of website

Day 13

Request to friendlies to share website with five friends who might find proposition of interest to themselves or other friends

Day 23

Insights discovered and one final request to share

And finally, at the end of day 30, send a thank you email and let each friendly know that you’ll be in touch in the next five days to share what you learned, how many people pre-ordered and what you plan to do next.

Step 3: Pre-sell

The second group you’re going to learn from is customers.

The pre-sell is THE most important signal of buying intent of a new customer. And Apple has been using this technique for well over a decade to determine the demand for its products.

Their formula involves an elegant explanation of the ‘coming soon’ product and the promise to be ‘one of the first’ to experience it if you pre-order.

I use a similar approach and I encourage you too as well with a couple of exceptions. You won’t be building a product in the background and you won’t be taking pre-payment from new customers.

Instead on Day 3 (as you start receiving feedback from friendlies):

  1. Visit Godaddy.com and buy a domain for your product that ends in .com (don’t spend more than 20 AUD)
  2. Visit Squarespace.com and set up a single page website (here’s an example), the investment is 22 AUD for the month
  3. Connect the domain to your website.

The example website I’ve used here is one we use for an inkl product. The proposition is clear and the call to action is booking a call with me!

In the case of pre-selling, you can use ‘Get your pre-order code’ as the call to action.

When this button is pressed, the person will be asked to enter details into a form (name, email address) and when they press ‘submit’ they will be thanked and be told of the next steps. And you will receive an email with their details.

This is a proxy for a pre-sale!

But I’m not a coder…

Me either! The reason for suggesting tools like Squarespace and GoDaddy is that they are specifically designed for people interested in building out ideas, so all you need to do is give it a try.

And, if you have questions, just shoot me an email.

Closing thought

Entrepreneurship is about growing a product or service through learning. Before you spend a fortune talking with lawyers and accountants or sink a bunch of time writing a business plan that gives you (and no one else) comfort, start learning if someone will pay for what you’re selling.

It’s easier than you might think and you’ll get a Go/No-Go decision on your idea based on insight and not just intuition.

And one last thing. You might be thinking, I can validate an idea in less than 30 days. Let me know if you do by leaving a comment below.