At Mindbox, we work with a lot of very early-stage startups. In fact, we work with so many early-stage companies and founders that we built a SaaS platform to help them plan out their software. We call it Story Plans — and it’s pretty awesome. Working with startups attracts some really cool projects; it also attracts some projects that could use a bit of fine-tuning. In this post, I’d like to highlight the fine-tuning part and explore some simple business validation techniques we use on a regular basis.
As a fellow entrepreneur, I also have ideas coming out of my ears. In fact, part of my morning routine includes pushing myself to come up with three to five unique ideas. Most of them are centered around building the Mindbox GROW team and services. Every once in awhile, I have an idea that is far outside of my current project scope … the elusive Unicorn idea, the type that makes you obsess over thoughts of Google-level success, IPOs, and infinite ping-pong tournaments.
But, like all daydreams, there comes a time to either violently pursue it or walk away, and walk away fast. How you approach these moments will allow you to limit how much time and energy is spent on ideas you don’t pursue.
It’s always painful to meet the hopeless dreamers who’ve spent their time, money, passion, and energy building products that are ten years late to market. This is where a few quick product validation techniques can be extremely valuable and keep you from waking up one morning realizing that you’ve quit your job and spent the last month working on a project that is doomed to fail.
Step 1. Hello Google
Most people only think of Google as a search bar… it’s much more. Google doesn’t only collect and display web pages: it collects behavioral data. But let’s start with the classic Google search. For this post, let’s validate a simple idea, a custom plugin vendor for Squarespace websites. I will start by doing an intentionally broad search for “Squarespace plugins”
As you can see, Google knows exactly what we are looking for. In fact, there have been enough searches that Google knows that there is demand for free plugins and version-specific plugins. This is a good sign. It tells us that there is demand for our idea.
Next, we are going to look at some of the results that are pulled up. We can see one company, SquareStudio, offering Squarespace plugins at the top of our SERP. We then see a blog post about Squarespace plugins and an individual developer offering custom Squarespace development work, including plugins. This tells us that the market is either currently being created or that there is not enough demand to support a larger market.
From this simple search, we have gained some really valuable insights:
1. There is demand for Squarespace plugins
2. There is a company currently offering the service
3. There is minimal competition in the space
Keep in mind that these are just basic insights, and there is a lot more work to be done here.
Next, we are going to get a little more specific and search for “Custom Squarespace plugins.”
As you can see, very similar results. This is good; it backs up what we had thought. Notice that the blog post is now ranking higher than the plugin development company. This is good news for us. Most of the time, it points to user behavior. It can mean that the company or service does not meet all of the searcher’s needs and they leave the site continuing their search for the perfect Squarespace plugin.
Step 2. Asking the Right Question
Next, we are going to shift our focus to asking questions. Our goal here is to gather real proof that people are talking about our solution and asking for someone to solve their problem. For this post, let’s keep it simple and look for some information to help us narrow down a specific plugin type. This can quickly turn into a massive rabbit trail, so let’s narrow down our results to one platform: Reddit.
As you can see, there is definitely a conversation going on about Squarespace plugins, and a passionate one at that. If we go one step further, we can see that though it’s not the most heavily commented-on post in Reddit history, it has pretty good activity.
Now, we know there is an active conversation happening. In fact, this specific conversation has been going on for almost 2 years. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Two years is a long time to see a pain point go unresolved. If this was an idea I was serious about pursuing, I would go back to step 1 and put more effort into finding other competitors in the space. To do this I would take three or four more broad search terms that would let me know if my competitors are targeting different search terms than I had thought.
If my findings remain the same, I might have stumbled upon an opportunity of a lifetime. If my findings change, I can rest assured that I didn’t waste my time obsessing over an idea that might never get off the ground. Remember, ideas are a dime a dozen. They only gain value when you take a step towards them. This simple process will help you decide if you should take another step.