A few weeks back, Dan and I attended Startup Mixology, a one-day conference on starting and running a successful business. Plenty of good advice was given. One piece stuck out to me and was mentioned more than once by the different presenters: evaluate and validate your idea.
Sounds simple, right? When you’re in those first stages, where you have that idea. That spark. The A-Ha moment. You realize you’ve got something special and you’re going to take over the world… it’s easy to get caught in the moment and forge ahead thinking people are going to flock to sign up for your service or purchase your product.
But we all know that not every idea is worth pursuing. Some can rightfully be considered throw-away projects. One-offs. Built for tinkering around with some fancy new client-side library. Others turn into businesses. Real business. Profits, expenses, employees…
Before that happens, talk to people. Ask them for feedback about the idea. The vision. The problem. Start marketing your idea before you start coding. Set up an AdWords campaign and drive some traffic to a landing page you threw together in a few hours and get ’em on an email list. Then decide if the idea is worth working on.
Practice What You Preach
My wife is an avid knitter, following in her mother and grandmother’s footsteps.
Different knitting projects require different sets of needles. They vary in their gauge, length, shape, and materials from which they are made. Your project requires Bamboo circular needles, size US 7, 48 inches? Makes my head spin… think of all the permutations!
So when my mother-in-law calls to see if we have a specific set of needles, as she does from time-to-time, we started thinking about ways to make the process simpler. More efficient. Easier. Enter Knitting Knot.
I could have hacked out an ugly but functional prototype that night. But the best learning is by doing. So we took a step back. Registered knittingknot.com. Built out a coming-soon page. Setup adwords. Spread the word. Did the Twitter thing. And now we’re working on getting feedback.
This feels incredibly unnatural for me. My first inclination is to jump in and code. That’s what I know. That’s what I do for a living. Let’s build something. Screw talking to people… I’d rather spend my time coding, then come out of left field hopefully making a splash on Hacker News, only to disappear onto Page 2 of your Instapaper account.
I’ve spent $50 on ads and have a decent trickle of traffic to Knitting Knot, along with a budding email list. If time were money, I could have spent a half-hour building a prototype. But I still wouldn’t be any closer to knowing if people wanted my solution to the problem.
Idea Foundry will be coming to Austin, TX in January to lead a Ruby on Rails class. You should come.
We’ve got a new project at work: a stoplight to signal the state of the our build server.
This was a temporary test that our code can turn on the correct lights. Looking good so far… now we just need to make this a more permanent solution and get it set up in the office. Can’t wait.