Lisa Messenger
Entrepreneur

Lisa Messenger is the CEO of The Messenger Group and founder and editor-in-chief of The Collective. She has authored and co-authored over a dozen books and become an authority in the start-up scene

Lisa Messenger
Entrepreneur

Lisa Messenger is the CEO of The Messenger Group and founder and editor-in-chief of The Collective. She has authored and co-authored over a dozen books and become an authority in the start-up scene

So you have the next big idea (you think). How do you road test the idea or product without overcommitting and finding yourself in debt and stuck with an idea that isn’t as shiny as it was originally?

Upside down splattered ice creams in cones against a yellow background

I have around five business ideas a day. That’s 35 ideas a week, 140 a month and 1680 a year. If you’re anything like me, as a small business owner and curious explorer, everywhere you look and every conversation you have will spark a brainwave.

But, let’s be honest – out of those 1680 ideas brewing in my brain I’ll probably only action two per cent of them, and only one per cent will actually go to market. The question is how do you choose what lightbulb to let shine and which to switch off? How do you sieve out the ideas worth pursuing and those not worth remembering?

For every serial entrepreneur who think they’ve found ‘the one’ here are my top tips for how to test an idea before you invest in it.  

1. Ask a party of 10

A lot of people think that market research is about big numbers but you don’t need to quiz 50,000 people to gauge a good reaction. If you go to a networking event set yourself a number of people to talk to.

Of course, it’s important to pick your crowd – don’t pitch an idea for a hipster burger truck to a bunch of vegetarians. But starting small with market research is an important stepping stone. If the first 10 people you tell have a twinkle in their eye, then you could be onto something special. 

2. Don’t be too secretive

It can seem risky sharing your bright idea in case someone else steals it, but I believe it’s more dangerous holding your cards too close to your chest. Choose a safe space to share your ideas.

Personally, I feel comfortable hinting at upcoming projects on my personal Facebook page. Although I won’t always share the full details of an upcoming project, I will sometimes give a clue about a topic or industry I’m thinking of investigating.

Research shows people are more likely to give honest feedback online than they are in face-to-face conversations. 

3. Fake it, then make it

When I was taking the idea of The Collective magazine to market, I did so with a very basic prototype, relying on my enthusiasm and excitement to paint the rest of the picture.

I could have spent a lot of time and money creating an entire magazine as an example but I wanted to see if the idea floated first. This is easier in some industries than others, as you may need a full, working prototype to explain your product.

But I know authors who have pre-sold books in this way, creating a book cover and marketing it before they’ve even written the manuscript.

4. Set up your own Shark Tank

If you’ve watched the show Shark Tank you’ll be familiar with the concept – wannabe entrepreneurs have 10 minutes to pitch their ideas to a judging table of four business gurus before receiving their brutally honest feedback.

There’s nothing stopping you setting up your own Shark Tank experiment: Invite a ‘panel’ of experienced business owners over for dinner, stand in front of them and pitch as if you were in a beauty pageant. If you’re worried about them not being honest then set up a Google Doc and ask everyone to anonymously post their feedback into one document. 

5. Bribe people. With bacon.

When Pertino, a start-up that builds IT cloud networks, wanted to get feedback from people who would be using its product, the company posted a shout-out on Spiceworks, the social network for the IT community.

Unusually, they promised Spiceworks users free bacon-flavoured popcorn if they joined the testing group and soon they had a cyber crew of hungry testers lining up to help them.

I also know an entrepreneur who swears by the ‘coffee test’ – buy someone a coffee and ask them for honest feedback. The perfect ‘bribe’ is appreciated but not too pricey, will tempt a tester but not restrain their feedback. 

6. Go back to your gut feeling

At the end of the day you can do all the market research in the world, but serial entrepreneurs know it all comes down to gut feeling.

This might not be useful advice but is true nonetheless. If your gut is screaming no, then put a line through it pronto. If your gut is screaming yes then go, go, go! 

Got a plan that’s passed Lisa’s test?

Check out the muru-D mentors’ guide to better business plans.

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