Here’s an interesting comic strip:
So the question is: Are you in the same situation as Richard? Waiting for an audience that isn’t there? Or providing a product that’s simply not attractive to an existing audience?
3 seconds to answer
This is actually a trick question because even if that is the situation you’re in, you’re almost certainly not aware of it.
Unfortunately, only time can tell if that’s the case or not. And I regret to admit that I’m speaking from experience here. I have a track record of releasing things that were nowhere near what the market needed. There was either no market at all or the market that was there wasn’t interested in the products. (This goes back to my web design business -related career.)
The cause of “boiled potatoes” -like failure
(“Boiled potatoes” -like failure … That’s a thing now, by the way.)
In my case, the cause of failures was the initial excitement about the projects. In other words, be very cautious of any situation where you start thinking something along the lines of:
“Wow this thing has to work, I mean, it’s the most brilliant thing ever!”
“Why isn’t anyone doing this?! If I get started now, I can take over the whole market!”
…or any other similar excitement-driven thoughts just like these.
Although excitement around anything you’re planning to do is a helpful success factor, oftentimes, it can blind our ability to have an objective opinion. Also, it can exaggerate our expectations and even make an average idea look like a winning lottery ticket.
So, here’s what you can do to avoid the aforementioned “boiled potatoes” -like failure. The following list is a result of some of my soul-searching, research, and current practices. Even though the sub-headlines might look fairly general, I urge you to bear with me and read on as some of the info inside might surprise you.
The power of research
Nothing, I repeat nothing is a more powerful tool/principle when building your online business than the habit of researching before anything else.
When you look at it, the whole thing is actually really simple. Here’s a cheat sheet:
So you have a brilliant new idea? Research if there’s any audience that could be potentially interested in it.
So you think you have a solution to a common problem? Research if there’s anyone who has already solved it.
So you think you know how to write articles with an interesting spin? Research if the crowd is right for this kind of content (something described by Greg in his post on freelance marketing).
So there’s no one doing what you are planning to start doing? Research if there was anyone doing it in the past, and if so, research why they stopped.
So you think you can do a given task better than someone? Research if there’s any actual need for doing the thing better.
In a nutshell, don’t ever base your product/business decisions on your own impression or belief. Research is the tool that will answer every question with raw data.
Stealing ideas and executing them better
I’m one of the few men who believe in stealing ideas and even openly admitting it. And no, this isn’t a clever intro that I’m just about to flip into a pretty standard advice. I really mean it. Steal ideas. Execute them better.
The reason why I don’t feel bad about my attitude is because the ideas themselves don’t matter. It really is the execution that turns an average project into a success.
And we don’t have to look far for examples. The most popular operating system out there – Windows – has been designed with an idea-stealing principle. Almost everything you see in Windows has been initially dreamed by another company/individual. What Microsoft did is took that thing and made it better.
And better is the real keyword here. Simply stealing an idea and executing it in the same manner, or even making it poorer will get you nowhere.
Stealing ideas that already proved to be good (ones that aroused some interest and so on) makes your research much easier. You can look into the current audience, find out what they really need, what they struggle with, and then design your improved solution.
Getting expert advice
Although an idea might seem great after the initial research, it can still turn to be very difficult to execute due to some technological limitations or budget-related ones.
If you just want to start your online business with a good yet cheap to develop product, you really have to get some expert advice on it.
Now, since you’ve done your research at this point, listing some experts by name shouldn’t be a problem. What you should do now is contact them and ask for advice.
Some common worries:
- Why would anyone pay attention to me? Well, most people, even the brightest and most noble ones, still like to be referred to as experts in a given field. Most of the time you will get an answer if you ask a question from an apprentice-to-expert standpoint.
- What if they steal my idea? No one will even think about stealing your idea, really. And even if they do, remember that it’s the execution that matters, so they won’t be able to do anything with it anyway.
This step is about reaching out to influencers and your prospective high-volume users.
In short, what you have to do is some more researching and coming up with a set of contacts that are likely to enjoy the thing you’ll possibly be developing and then ask them some questions.
Mainly, ask them if they’d be interested in a tool/service/______ that would do ______ and help them with _______ for $X/free.
The exact tone of the message is up to you. But, the idea is to get a yes or no and preferably some feedback regarding the possible improvements or the things that those users would really need in relation to your product.
This phase – sniffing around – lets you arrive at the basic structure of your minimum viable product.
Developing a minimum viable product
Basically, a minimum viable product is something that takes care of the main need of your average user. Just one need or problem. At this stage, it’s really not about developing something that will be all things to all people.
Personally speaking, not having a minimum viable product was the cause of my early failures.
Therefore, one important thing I want to emphasize here is the following. The minimum viable product is not about something that does one simple thing just for the heck of it. It’s about something that does one simple thing that is essential to your user base. Finding and solving this thing is where success happens.
Once you have this covered, you can build on top of it and end up with something that’s massively valuable to your audience.
There’s quite a lot of info on minimum viable products and their creation on the web already, but I promise to publish something of my own too. This will be a kind of a case study as I’m in the middle of building such a thing myself. I hope we can all learn during the process.
In the meantime, that’s all for now. Feel free to let me know if you ever found yourself in a “boiled potatoes” -like situation.