Pre-Validate, Pre-Validate, Pre-Validate, Pre-Validate!
In previous startup attempts (including Percebe Music's successful launch), I would spend about three months building an MVP to put in front of potential users to find out if it's what they need and how to make it better -- to start the build-measure-learn loop. But there is a dangerous assumption behind that: your idea is a real problem. It's an easy mistake to make. But you have to remember: you're just one person. So the first step in the proverbial "get out of the building!" is to pre-validate the hypothetical problem -- yes, remember it is hypothetical until and unless "survey says" it is real.
Thanks to pre-validation, I realized within just a few weeks that the idea I was moving forward with had too much friction of sorts, creating too much risk for failure -- well I could have taken it, and maybe succeeded, but I chose rather to take a lower-friction route, and higher odds of success! So, to be more specific, for a month or so I was persuing a concept to use large-scale VR or AR -- like the kind where you literally walk or run around in a 10,000 square-foot area, and visually, through the headset, you are doing so in the virtual environment -- for police officer training and/or firefighter training. What I found during pre-validation phase was:
- It is very hard, no, very very hard, to get in contact with firefighter and police training decision makers. Or, it was very hard for me to get in contact with them. Either way, there is some major friction. How would I present a solution to them, or even find out if it's something they'll actually pay for? (to sustain the business, not to become filthy rich, for you judgmental ones out there)
- It is very very hard to get in contact with them
- My understanding of the industry, even after a month of looking into it, was not full enough to navigate. I was driving through a blizzard.
- Something else probably
So, I turned to an industry I know tons 'n' tons about, that I have easy and regular access to: software development. Yes and, even though I have been programming for 25 years...OK professionally for 9, built numberous applications solo, and with a team, I still refuse to assume my hypothetical problem/solution is real. So for the past week I've been working very hard to get at least 20 (local) developers to take a survey.
"Survey" Is a Dirty Word
OK I don't actually know why I only get a 5% response on my survey requests, even though I hand-picked each individual local developer rather than mass-emailing, and wrote a personal e-mail explaining I was a local, fellow developer, and this tool would be to help them. But I imagine the word "survey" in the message almost directly triggering their right index finger to hit the delete button on the e-mail -- and I don't blame them. Who ever wants to take a survey? They're usually long, provide no benefit to you, and are there just to try to get you to buy something.
But I like the advice I've heard a number of times in the startup community: if you focus on helping people, and solving their problems, you will be successful. This is true, and also nice because even if you don't succeed as a growing business, at least you tried to help people.
I have 11 responses to the survey now, and need at the bare minimum 20 -- a number given by The Startup Collaborative, after all any less than that creates a sampling that could misrepresent the industry. Those 11 so far indicate we are on to something...to be continued...