Ideas and Validation December 4, 2019

Idea validation slides from my Hustle Con talk

Courtland Allen @csallen

I gave a talk at Hustle Con yesterday on idea validation. Here are my slides: https://www.indiehackers.com/hustlecon.

They might be a little meaningless without the video of my talk itself, so here's a brief outline:

  • If you're starting a business, it's 100% fine if your initial mission is a "selfish" one: to have the creative freedom to build what you want, from wherever you want, on a schedule that feels comfortable to you, alongside the people you like being around, so you can be happy.
  • Your idea is just as important as execution. In fact, it's better to focus on that, because it's easier to improve. You probably can't become a 10x better executor, but you can have a 1000x better idea.
  • Idea validation is for more than just eliminating ideas. Done right, it will help you tweak and improve your idea, or even come up with a new idea from scratch.
  • The most important thing to understand is that a business idea is about more than just a product. You also need to consider your market, distribution channels, and business model if you want your idea to be any good. Simply thinking about all four parts in advance will dramatically improve your changes of success.
  • Spend an hour or two before you start anything just examining yourself. Not only will this help prevent you from building a business you hate running, but it may enable to to build a business that perfectly suits your personality, your skillset, and your goals.
  • Validate the market part of your business idea first. The essence of product-market fit is building a product that perfectly suits your market, and you can't do that if you build your product first without really understanding your market.
  • When validating your market, the most important question is "who" they are. You should be specific here. And don't worry about getting it wrong initially. You'll need to be flexible about going back to revisit this and potentially changing the market you target.
  • When validating your channels, keep in mind that every channel is competitive. For example, there are people who post YouTube videos, do SEOs, write newsletters, tweet, etc. all day long. And the people who frequent those channels are there to consume the best content, not the worst. Therefore if you're going to do a good job in a channel, you'll need to hone in and focus on it so you can do a good job. Don't spread your attention across 10 different channels and do a crappy job in all of them.
  • Working on your product is significantly more effective once you're armed with a lot of knowledge about your market and channels.
  • Solve a boring, tried-and-true problem that people have proven they'll pay for, but then build a unique product.
  • Seriously, stop copying other people's products. If anything, you want to do the exact opposite: look at what everyone else is doing, then do the opposite, explicitly so your product will stand out and be memorable. Indie Hackers is blue for a reason.
  • However, your product decisions should be primarily driven by the needs and idiosyncrasies of the people in your market, as well as the idiosyncrasies of the primary channel you're using to reach these people. Literally make a list of the ways your can tailor your product to do this.
  • Validation is about more than guessing at answers to questions. Start that way, sure, but eventually you need to graduate to dipping your toe in the water. For the market, you'll eventually need to talk to users and/or do research. For your channels, you'll need to run channel tests. For your product, you'll need to build an MVP. For your business model, you'll need to try selling.
  • It's embarrassing to release an MVP after you've told all your friends and colleagues that you have a lofty business idea. But it's important to suck it up and start small anyway. Pieter Levels started with a spreadsheet before building Nomad List. Joel Hooks started with a ZIP file of videos he found on YouTube before building egghead. Wes Bos sends educational tweets before building courses. Indie Hackers started off as just a blog.
  • Just because you're a fledgling indie hacker doesn't mean you need to charge less than established competitors. It's counterintuitive, but the exact opposite is true: indie hackers, small mom-and-pop shops, etc. can't afford not to charge more than the big competitors. They have economies of scale that let them sell cheaply. You need to compete on customer service, or by niching down, etc., and then charge high prices.
  • Also counterintuitive: Customers don't pay more because you put in a ton of work. They pay more because you're solving a more valuable problem. If you spend a month building a decent solution to a $1000 problem, customers will pay you $1000. If you spend a year building an amazing solution to a $5 problem, customers will pay you $5. So your business model is mostly determined by the market you choose and the problem you solve, not by the quality of your product.

I'll post the video once it's up!

  1. 8

    These are great tips. My favorite is:
    "Solve a boring, tried-and-true problem that people have proven they'll pay for, but then build a unique product."
    Because it lets you get started without waiting for an "amazing" idea. Just start and aim to be better.
    Thank you for sharing, Courtland!

  2. 3

    Great info.
    The last point is very well said
    "-If you spend a month building a decent solution to a $1000 problem, customers will pay you $1000.
    -If you spend a year building an amazing solution to a $5 problem, customers will pay you $5. "

  3. 2

    Awesome points @csallen! The only thing I am not completely on board is:

    "Seriously, stop copying other people's products. If anything, you want to do the exact opposite: look at what everyone else is doing, then do the opposite, explicitly so your product will stand out and be memorable. Indie Hackers is blue for a reason."

    A quote: “First, you have to figure out who to copy. Second, you have to figure out what to copy.”
    ― Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

    Why would I risk of creating something completely new with my limited time if I can look around for what makes money, steal an idea that I am passionate about, and add my twist to it? Some of the examples you provided are exactly doing that. I think indiehackers itself is a mash-up of different ideas and sites.

    We need to be more nuanced about this point.

    Life is too short to reinvent the wheel. Surely, if want to create a unicorn business or have the added stress-levels and no work-life balance, go ahead.

    What you think?

  4. 2

    I was there for the conference and your sessions was the best one out of all of them over the 2-days.

  5. 2

    How long until the video is posted up? :)

    1. 2

      Not sure! I'll have to ask the Hustle Con folks.

  6. 1

    Has the video for this talk been published yet?

  7. 1

    Really looking forward to waht the video... the message and slides are great! Thanks

  8. 1

    While a lot of this is nice and ideally it works in a perfect world, I think it is better to advise early founders that the idea is totally irrelevant.

    Your idea is just as important as execution. In fact, it's better to focus on that, because it's easier to improve. You probably can't become a 10x better executor, but you can have a 1000x better idea.

    The truth is that not has everything been done before (okay not literally everything), assume it has been done at least 4 time before and:

    • One of your competitors gives it away for free
    • One of them charges a ton for it and is super complicated
    • Another has the whole market
    • The last hasn't been found because they don't know how to market.

    You don't even need to have the product, but you do need to know where you are going to sell it. My team has some "awesome" products, but we still spend all our time educating, blogging, and talking with potential users because it just don't happen automatically.

    There is no If you build it they will come, it is If you sold it, then build it, in that order.

    Ideas are too common, everyone has an idea, but even more important than marketing is

    How will it make money?

    Because if it doesn't then you can't continue onwards without fully supporting financially all your users. And "Ads" isn't a solution.

    Some ideas are easier to sell than others, and this is where target market segment is important, so while you can "improve your idea", it is more likely you need to "improve your go to market strategy."

    1. 2

      In my talk and post, "idea" basically means "strategy." My biggest point is that a business idea is not simply a product idea. The product is only one part. You need to understand who you're selling to, what they buy and why, your best channels for reaching that market, how you can specifically tailor your product to that market and those channels, etc.

      If you aren't thinking about those things then your idea is incomplete. You can execute well, but the parts you haven't though about are going to come down to luck, or tons of trial-and-error that forces you to eventually think about them.

  9. 1

    "Your idea is just as important as execution. In fact, it's better to focus on that, because it's easier to improve. You probably can't become a 10x better executor, but you can have a 1000x better idea."

    I like this. The idea is important its what got you started in the first place. I think the "execution is everything" approach can cause someone to stall or panic as they rush to get started on their project.

  10. 1

    Thanks for sharing Courtland. Super helpful.

  11. 1

    Valuable info. Thanks!

  12. 1

    Great points! Looking forward to watching the video.

  13. 1

    Thanks Courtland!

  14. 1

    -great info man

  15. 0

    Your idea is just as important as execution. In fact, it's better to focus on that, because it's easier to improve. You probably can't become a 10x better executor, but you can have a 1000x better idea.

    This is so so true.

    1. 0

      So, not.

      That's the one bad advice here.
      If it was true most better mouse trap projects would have succeeded and we know how the reality is.
      P.S. I got a rat problem and 4 types of traps don't any.

      While it could be somewhat true for specific contexts, as it's put it's just bias confirmation of what people want to hear and what surviver bias tends to broadcast.

      Look at the big lists of failures most successful people have.
      You rather go roll your dice with bad ideas.
      Cause you do learn to execute.
      Each exectioy does become better.
      Sitting and trying for a better idea doesn't work, cause it's not embedded in a learning experience, you can sit a lifetime ideating a better idea, you would not be any closer to a successful one.

      If an idea was so valuable we would have markets for people buying and selling ideas.
      And you could just sit creating ideas and go sell them and be rich
      Call me when that happens.

      1. 1

        We'll just have to agree to disagree.

  16. 1

    This comment was deleted 4 months ago.

  17. 1

    This comment was deleted 4 months ago.