If you’re an entrepreneur or someone that has lightbulbs going off in your head everyday, if you’re managing innovations for an organization, or if you are an investor who evaluates ideas all day. You want to vet out an idea for viability, feasibility, market fit, growth potential, future risks, and more before investing your time and money into an idea of a company. For an entrepreneur this vetting process is especially critical to be able to answer questions from investors, customers, potential employees and partners, all of them super important to your growth and success. Some version of these tests can be applied by an entrepreneur who is evaluating a startup to join. Testing the idea, I believe, is one of the many factors that determine if a startup or the idea will succeed or fail. Here are 10 ways you should test your idea as soon as you can.
Basic idea test
Have you ever met somebody who keeps a log or journal of ideas? I have met several. I think its great when people do that. The best journals are the ones with a bunch of lines crossed out. When you have an idea, the best first step is to Google it to find similar solutions, competition, and existing patents. Within a couple hours, one of two things will happen. You would have either discovered that you have a very unique and great idea or that a similar or same product already exists and you should build a better mouse trap. Doing what patent lawyers call a “prior art search” is absolutely essential to developing a good idea into a great solution. This applies less to people who are already domain experts (people who spend 20 years in an industry) but nevertheless its the best way to vet out your idea quickly.
This seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do this. I recommend doing this test immediately after the basic test and its the logical next step. Spend sometime doing competitive shopping, snooping around, reading marketing materials, watching demos, poking holes, doing deeper research, talking to users, and even trying out competitor products if you have the means. The idea is not to copy them, of course, but to determine if you’re going to build a better mouse trap.
This step may involve validating your ideas with friends, family, mentors, colleagues and classmates. I have seen some brave souls post ideas on Social Media groups or share with their connections. From this expanded network of influences, you will almost always receive valuable unfiltered feedback on your overall idea, pricing, business model, and features.
Most investors require you to have a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) or at least a prototype. However, that may not be possible for everybody or in every situation. You should always document end-to-end use cases. You may then want to create some mockups, block diagrams, 3D print modeling (if applicable), simulation or demo (using demo tools) to test out key functionality of your product. This step helps either eliminate not so great ideas or solidifies and fine tunes good ones.
This may apply in your situation if you have a product that requires some sort of security clearance, certification, or compliance verification. For example, if you are building a product for say the government, elderly, people with disabilities, personal safety, healthcare, or financial services, your product may be required to pass one or more compliance certifications. Before you start developing the product do some research and determine what compliance certifications will be required. Are there any certifications or clearance that could impair your ability to sell. For example, to sell software to any government agency, the product must pass and maintain 508 compliance. Checkout Section 508 site for more information.
This is a big area and requires a book of its own. Here I will share some quick thoughts. International test refers to first making sure your branding is not offensive (color, name, logo, mascot). If your product will serve international market, you need to think through correct localization, cultural nuances, availability, pricing, and packaging. You may not need to spend a lot of time diving deep into these things but thinking through (or at least checking the boxes that you thought about them) will help avoid delays and cost over-runs, especially if its a software product.
A 4-year old test
I have met many entrepreneurs who struggle to pitch their own products to a potential customer in a few words. The product is so much in their head and they are so deeply involved with it that it becomes challenging to position it to the common buyer. I am not talking about some highly technical products, even though we all know customers don’t buy technology, they buy a solution. It is absolutely essential that the message of what your product does and how it benefits a potential customer is absolutely simple and clear that even a 4-year old can understand, or rather, can sell it.
The Monkey on the keyboard test
This test means two things. First, in the software world, your user interface needs to be fool proof – meaning if you handed the keyboard the a monkey, his random key strokes won’t break your software. This is where the notion of graceful handling of error conditions comes in. In some applications it also refers to a computer accepting input and generating output with a highly comparable accuracy whether it is a human or monkey on the key board.
The Money test
This is a pretty broad area and covers many angles. The money test may include answering questions such as, how much would it cost to build, is it worth the investment, how will we fund the idea, how will we make money, and when will the company be profitable. On an on going basis, how much money will be needed to maintain and operate the product and company. The surprise of high cost of maintenance or operations is one big cause for startups to struggle or even fail.
The 10-Year test
This is an interesting one for me personally. If I am to invest my time and effort into an idea and put my family through the rigor – it better be a long-term viable solution with a major upside. I always ask myself, when evaluating a company, is it a product or a company? Is it a feature in some other big company’s product or can it be big enough on its own? Envision your company is 10 years old. What do you see in terms of customer base growth, competition, and pricing changes. The biggest test is the product extensions test. How do you envision your product line or lines to grow and expand? Are there complimentary and/or logically grouped products you can add? Can you be the one stop solution provider to the type of customers you will acquire for your first product? In other words can you keep your customers coming back to you to buy more for the next 10 years?
These are the most common and fundamental tests that I have used personally and I recommend for entrepreneurs. As the product and company matures, depending on your space and industry, there might be other tests essential to your success and growth. Leave a comment if you would like me to include additional similar tests here.