As a prospective entrepreneur with a business idea, you definitely want to get feedback on it before you take your first steps towards the execution. Feedback is important. But it’s also where most people make mistakes. They simply don’t ask the right people for it out of fear they’ll steal or ridicule their idea. Instead, they end up gathering feedback from their friends and family.
Let’s make a couple of things clear. You want to talk about your idea with many different people except your friends and family.
Why? They’re the ones who are most concerned with your future, and thus, they want to protect you from risks — and entrepreneurship is risky.
While friends and family might give you biased feedback, there some particular groups you should actively seek out. Here are the most important ones.
1. Potential customers
Seek out your potential customers in person and interview them. Gather as much information as you can. But here’s the catch: never ask your customers for solution or product ideas. Most can’t imagine a solution beyond what they already know.
Instead, ask questions to validate their needs and pain points. Then take what you learned and design your proposed solution or a mock-up of it. Show it to them again and get their feedback. As Bill Gates once said, “they can’t always tell you what they want, but they can always tell you what’s wrong”.
2. Other entrepreneurs
First-time entrepreneurs are typically reluctant to share their idea with other entrepreneurs. They’re afraid of having their idea stolen. In reality, most entrepreneurs have too many of their own great ideas that are relevant to their skills, market and experience. It’s unlikely they’re going to steal it; and if they do, it’s always about who executes the best. By asking other entrepreneurs, you’ll get a lot of field-tested advice and make valuable connections that will come in handy in the future.
The thing is, entrepreneurs like to help other entrepreneurs. Seek out any entrepreneur in your network and get a meeting with them. Ask for advice, direction and introductions to potential partners, customers and investors. This will give you an early market advantage.
3. Industry insiders
The market is the single most important determinant of a startup’s success. As Marc Andreessen, the founder of two billion-dollar startups turned prominent VC says: “The market pulls a product out of the startup. The market needs to be fulfilled, and the market will be fulfilled by the first viable product that comes along. The product doesn’t need to be great; it just has to basically work. And the market doesn’t care how good the team is, as long as the team can produce that viable product.”
Seek out industry insiders to learn everything you can about the market you’re targeting with your idea. The information you’ll get will probably save you a lot of time as you won’t have to learn on the go.
Why would you want to speak with investors at the idea stage? Even though 99% of investors don’t invest in ideas (unless you’re a proven entrepreneur), building investor relationships early may prove invaluable later on.
Not only can they provide you with great advice, by getting to know you early, they’ll be more likely to invest later on because they’ll already know you and be aware of the progress you’ve made. And when you get to the point of fundraising, you won’t have to start from scratch.
5. Marketers and salespeople
“Build it, they will come” is the mantra of a failed dot-com boom. Today, you need to know how to sell your product and come up with the right distribution strategy even before you release it. You should be thinking about sales and marketing as much as you’re thinking about your product idea.
You also want to seek out some of the best salespeople and marketers in your network in order to learn from them, get their advice or get them to be your mentors.
Josiah Humphrey is the co-founder and co-CEO of Appster, a leading mobile app and product development company with offices in Melbourne and San Francisco.