A step-by-step guide for finding and validating your tech startup idea
Launching a successful startup is one of the hardest challenges you can take on. 9 out of 10 startups don’t make it. That’s not a very encouraging statistic, but it’s very real.
How do you make sure you’re the 1 out of 10 that makes it? It all starts with finding the right idea for your tech startup and validating it as quickly as possible.
In this article we’ll show you how to find the right idea for your startup and how to avoid the common pitfalls entrepreneurs make.
SCRATCH YOUR OWN ITCH
Whether it’s in your business, in life, or at work, you are constantly dealing with problems. And the problems we face every day, no matter how unique we may think they are, are all too common.
People pay to have their problems solved. A common mistake entrepreneurs make is to think of an idea before they thought about the problem first. Don’t start by thinking about solutions or products that you think people want. Start with the problem. Look at your own life. What are the problems you face that you wish you had a solution for?
For example, you have to follow a specific diet because of food allergies you have. But all the recipe apps and home cooked food delivery services out there don’t cater to people like you.
These products and services don’t offer the personalisation you need.
Come up with a few ideas. Don’t worry about whether the problems you’re identifying are good or not. For now, write them all down. You’ll find it easy to get up to 5 or even 10.
Flex your brain muscles a bit and see if you can get to 20. At this stage, there’s no bad idea or problem to solve.
We’ll work through these later on to identify the ones that are worth pursuing vs the ones that aren’t.
KNOWING WHICH IDEAS TO PURSUE
You should now have 10-20 problems/ideas written down. But how do you know which ones to pursue?
There are two simple questions you can ask yourself:
- Do I have a burning desire to solve this problem? If you’re not motivated to solve the problem now, you’re going to struggle to keep progressing when things start to get tough.
- Are people willing to pay for a solution to this problem? Or do people already pay for a service or product that solves this problem?
For example, you know that people are willing to pay for home-cooked food delivery services. This is something people already spend their money on. Do you think people with food allergies would be willing to pay for a similar service? A more personalized service that paid attention to their food allergies?
If their food allergies are serious or cause them a lot of pain, then we're onto something.
Based on these two questions, choose one problem you’re going to move forward with. Don’t worry if there’s more than one you’d like to explore. You can always run through this process several times. The important step is to start. So pick one, and let’s dive a little deeper.
KNOWING YOUR MARKET
Here’s where most people go wrong. They pick an idea that they “know” will work. And what do they do? They go off and build a website, order business cards, set up their social media pages, etc.
They’re busy, so they feel like they’re making progress. When in reality, they’re focusing on the wrong things. And wasting a ton of money before they’ve validated their idea.
It doesn’t matter how good you think your idea is. You need to validate it to be sure you’re not wasting your time and money on something that won’t sell.
This process is critical to the early success of your business. Spending your time on menial tasks that don’t get you closer to a profitable business can cripple you. Don't doom your startup to fail before you’ve even had a chance to make a sale.
There’s a better way, a faster way to validate your ideas, that will save you time, money, & effort.
How? You’re going to immerse yourself in the world of your target customer. This is why picking a problem you have experience with can be so valuable. Because you’ll have insights that others won’t.
Let’s break this down into simple steps.
Yes, Google. It sounds simple, but it’s the easiest place to start. Search for services/products/companies that are already trying to solve your problem.
Take our personalized, home-cooked food delivery service example. Are there other companies already doing this?
What services do they offer? What are they doing well? What aren’t they doing well? What language do they use in their messaging? Does it resonate with you? If not, why?
Take note of what you learn, this will help you later on when you start crafting your own proposition.
Quora, Reddit, Facebook and Other Online Communities
There is a goldmine of information on community sites. Think of Quora, Reddit, Facebook groups and other similar online communities. Look for groups around the idea or problem you’re trying to solve. For example, food allergy groups, mothers groups with children with allergies. You get the idea.
Go through old threads, dive deep into these communities and engage with them. This is a problem you face, too. So engage with the community.
Share your story, ask great questions, and be authentic. You’re not selling anything. You’re trying to understand the problem you want to solve.
Talking to People
Yes, actually talking to people. This is another common mistake. Nothing beats having one-on-one conversations with people.
There’s only so much you can learn hiding behind your computer.
Start talking about your problem to other people. Find out if this is something other people deal with. Is it truly a pain for them, or just something they like to complain about but wouldn’t actually pay to have solved?
This is an important point. You need to understand the difference between someone willing to pay to solve this and someone who will happily talk about their problem, but would never pay for a solution.
Let’s continue with the same example. You have food allergies. You want to have home-cooked meals but you don’t want to worry about what ingredients might be in them. You’re tired of cooking all the time and wish you could just come home to healthy meals.
Find other people who have the same issue. Do you have friends who suffer from food allergies? Allergies that are frustrating to deal with. Uncomfortable rashes or inflammation, as an example.
How do they deal with their allergies today? Where do they eat? Do they cook for themselves? How is that process for them? Do they enjoy cooking? Or is it something they wish they didn’t have to do?
At this point you’re interested in qualitative data. You want to speak to relevant people and go deep with them. Really uncover the pain points they’re feeling.
Go beyond the surface. When you speak to 50-100 different people about a particular topic, patterns will start to appear.
Understanding Your Target Customers
When you understand who your customers are - and I mean, really understand who they are - you can craft your product, services, and messaging perfectly to their wants and needs.
By this point you should already have an idea of who your target audience is. You’ve done the research, you’ve even spoken to 50-100 people. Now is the time to start crafting your customer avatar.
This is where you can craft profiles of your ideal customers.
Keep in mind that you may have to do this several times to get it right for your business. You can also have several customer avatars if you cater to more than one target audience.
For example, you could create an avatar for a 25-30 year old male, who loves going to the gym and has food allergies. And another for a working mother in her late 30s who has a child suffering from deadly food allergies.
You can cater to both types of customers. But the messaging you use to target those customers must be specific to them. What resonates with a 25 year old gymgoing single male, will not resonate with a 35 year old working mother.
To create your customer avatar, start by giving them a name. This makes it more personal. You can model the avatar around someone you’ve spoken to.
Write down their demographics (age, gender, marital status, income, job industry, etc.).
Next, note down what defines them as a person. Who are they? How do they see themselves? What are their defining characteristics? What do they do for fun? What does their day look like?
Where do they spend their time online? What events do they go to? What are their hobbies? What goals do they have? What do they dream about? What keeps them up at night?
Let’s take a look at our earlier example. A 25-year-old working male, who enjoys going to the gym. Let’s name him Greg. Greg gets up at 5am every day.
He likes being up this early, because it makes him feel like he’s getting ahead of everyone else who’s still asleep. He gets up and makes himself a protein shake, grabs his gym bag and cycles to the gym.
He goes to a 24/7 gym, and loves being there so early in the morning. No one else is around. So he doesn’t feel self-conscious about the rashes on his skin that he’s been scratching all night.
He always seems to get bad rashes, but they get worse when he eats out. And last night he had a cheap takeaway meal on the way home because he was too tired to think about cooking after a long day at work dealing with demanding clients at the creative ad agency he works for...
You can start to see where I’m going with this. You want to drill down into the minute details. The level of detail that almost no one else is willing to go to, to really understand who your customer is.
When you understand who they really are - not just on the surface, but intimately, to the point where you speak their language and understand how they think - then your product becomes the only solution your target customer will want and buy.
Crafting Your Irresistible Offer
Now that you know who your target customer is, you’re almost ready to complete the validation process. But before that, you need to craft your offer. And to do that, you have to brainstorm different solutions for your target customer.
For example, will you offer a daily delivery meal service with a personalized menu? This might be an offer to pursue for higher-income earners.
If your ideal customer is more price sensitive, an app might be a better solution. An app with delicious recipes, personalized to their needs.
Use your research to guide you. Your findings will help you define the irresistible offer your customers want.
You don’t have to limit yourself to one product at one price point. The key here is to come up with a few ideas that you can later test. You won’t know which solution or price is right until you make the offer.
Validating Your Idea
You have your offers, products, or services. It’s go time. Time to see if the solutions you’ve come up with are worth pursuing. Are people willing to pay for what you’re offering?
It’s very easy at this stage to ask your friends, or people you’ve been speaking to if they’d be willing to buy your service. But this is not the best way to validate your idea.
Some people will lie to you. They'll say “of course I’d buy that” or “sure, let me know when it’s for sale” because they’re just being polite.
So how do you know who’s telling the truth and who’s trying to be nice? The only definitive is to get them to pay.
But “I don’t even have a product!” I hear you say.
That’s ok. You don’t need a product or service available now to get paid for it. I want to make the important distinction here that you’re not going to try to cheat people.
All you're doing is delaying when the product or service will be delivered. You can offer a discounted price to reward them for paying now. Tailor your offering to the needs and wants of your customers. If you get this right, you will get paying customers. That is the best sign that you are onto something.
There you have it. A clear and step-by-step process for finding ideas for your tech startup. What ideas or problems would you like to solve? Let us know in the comments!