All the theory in the world won’t make a lick of difference if you don’t get into the field and do something. That’s why advice isn’t worth as much as it should be, and isn’t nearly as effective as it should be. Entrepreneurs consistently make the same mistakes over and over, even when there are lots of competent and successful people out there advising otherwise (and non-successful, non-competent people too!). Founders are doers, simple as that. Not theorists. Not passersby. Not partipants. Doers. Practitioners. And leaders.
That being said, here’s some advice (based on action though!) …
I’ve recently started the validation process for a startup idea. It’s not going well; at least in terms of validating what I think is an interesting idea. The process I’m going through (for now) is leveraging my existing network – since the startup idea is in the recruitment space – and interviewing people. These are people that I’ve defined as potential customers (for the most part.) And what I’ve realized is just how hard it is NOT to pitch the solution upfront.
When the first few words out of my mouth are, “Let me tell you about this great idea I have…” I realize shortly thereafter that I’m screwed. The entire exercise of trying to assess a prospect’s pain, the intensity of it, and whether or not my startup idea can solve it, goes right out the window. I’ve tainted the sample. But it’s hard not to pitch the solution upfront, because let’s face it, the solution is cool. And I want to get to the “fun stuff” as quickly as possible.
As I go through the interviews, things are getting better. In some cases, when my probing questions about a prospect’s pain aren’t pointing me in a useful direction, I don’t even bother going into the solution. In some cases, even with lukewarm feedback, I still discuss the solution or the general area of interest I’m focused on. And guess what the response has been?
- That’s really cool. I can see how that’s interesting. Oh ya, that’s very slick.
- Then I ask, “But would it make your life significantly better?”
- “Would you pay for this kind of solution?”
- “It sounds like it would add some value but not enough to get you begging me to deliver the solution tomorrow.”
- “But it is cool.”
- Ya, it’s cool. Definitely a cool idea.
Using friends and/or people in my network already creates a bias I have to be cautious about. Pitching the solution upfront makes it a whole lot worse. There’s lots of great advice out there on how to do customer interviews properly (Four Steps to the Epiphany covers this very well), but until you get right into it and start calling people, recognize the mistakes you’re making (just keep your eyes and ears open!), and keep at it, you won’t be able to maximize the value of the process.