As a business-development company, we work with billion-dollar firms and startups. We’ve also been hosting the 1 Million Cups networking group in Rockford, Illinois, for about 10 months. Every Wednesday at 9 a.m., we open the door for free coffee and to hear from a small-business owner and entrepreneur. That draws a variety of people, from other business owners to people who help businesses grow.
It also draws more than a few dreamers. These are professionals who have ideas that they want to turn into a business.
In these discussions, our first piece of advice is to go pitch their idea to 50 complete strangers. Most people, when they come up with an idea, pitch it to friends and family. These are people who love and respect them and may not give the critical feedback they need.
It also forces someone to approach 50 complete strangers. After all, you still have to sell a product or a service. If you don’t believe enough in your idea to sell it to strangers, why would somebody else?
Even if you follow the advice, Katie Parrot of GrowthLab.com warns of another problem. She calls it “idea laundering.” That’s the practice of “taking customer feedback and jamming it into your preconceived notions.”
Parrot writes that there are two common traps that entrepreneurs fall into when doing market research.
Skipping to a solution
Sometimes when an entrepreneur identifies a problem, they are so eager to come up with a business idea, they’ll skip steps to get to a solution. They will ignore whether the solution has true market potential.
Often, an entrepreneur will come up with a potential solution and then mentally fit all feedback they receive into validation of that solution. They’ll ignore feedback that may indicate that there’s a better solution.
The syndrome is named for psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous saying: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
So change your thinking
Once you’ve realized that you’ve ignoring what people actually are saying versus what you want them to say, you have some options to correctly validate your idea:
- Change whom you talk to. Start the process over to get new feedback.
- Change how you talk about your solution. Use the feedback to make changes if that’s the direction people are urging you to go.
- Change the solution. If the honest feedback is that there isn’t enough of a market for your idea, you can power ahead, thinking that you know more than the people you are talking to. You can abandon the idea. You can look to see if your idea is a solution to another problem. The business world is filled with products that originally had different purposes. Viagra originally was designed to lower blood pressure.
The ultimate goal is to market something that will make you money. There are millions of failed businesses that didn’t get the above formula right. It’s not just small companies that make these mistakes; Ford introduced the Edsel, McDonald’s tried the Arch Deluxe, Google failed with Google Glass. If you have an idea, this is your chance to be better than Google.