Idea Myopia

When an aspiring entrepreneur asks me whether I have a few minutes to talk about their idea, I always say ‘yes’. I like to know what kind of problems people are working on and how we (as a community) can help.

What follows is kind of interesting. Sometimes, the explanation is crisp and coherent. They are working on product or service in a niche emerging market. They have done some initial customer validation. They talk about the problem space and what other solutions exist. They even have a prototype and got some initial feedback. They are thinking through some of the next steps. They want to know what I think.

I ask a few general questions (mostly about their assumptions) just to make sure that I really understand what they are doing. I either know this space or I don’t. I make some suggestions on how they can validate their assumptions. The dialog lasts about 10 minutes. If I like the idea and get a good feel about the entrepreneur or the team, I ask them to send me an email, so that I can help or connect them with someone who can.

Some times just when I am about to leave, they ask me whether I have one more minute.  And  I hear the dreaded words “I have this other idea”.  All my earlier interest evaporates at that point.

To steal a phrase from my friend J.K. Iyer, too many of us suffer from “idea myopia”. I think there is a cure for “idea myopia” or its cousin “product myopia”. We think too much about ourselves, our ideas, our products. I am not discouraging creative thinking. I am just saying that it pays to do some early research and validation. Here are a few steps you can take that will help immensely.

  1. Write down all your ideas and pick one or two.
  2. Do some research (to get a sense of the marketplace) and select one idea to explore further.
  3. Write down a list of assumptions you are making about the customers, marketplace.
  4. Have a few conversations with potential customers and validate your assumptions. Some times you need a mockup or prototype to explain your idea. Some times you can just paint a few scenarios relevant to your customer. Anything that increases the customer’s understanding will help. 
  5. Based on several such conversations, go back and refine your assumption and the idea itself, if needed.

At the end of this process you will either discard the idea or refine it. Both are good and will save you a lot of time and expense when you move to the next stage.

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