Last weekend, I had the exhilarating opportunity to stand before a group of 60 entrepreneurs, each brimming with ideas and ambition, ready to shake off the chains of procrastination.
These incredible individuals decided that the time for dreaming was over – it was time to turn those dreams into reality. With the support of Phase One Ventures, they tried to launch on a single weekend.
Shout out to the crazy ones. That’s how I like to roll.
I was invited to lead the only workshop of the weekend, addressing the only real question on any entrepreneur’s mind – the one that keeps them up at night, that haunts them through every pitch, that keeps them from taking that first big step to making their dream a reality.
How could they be sure that their idea was any good?
It’s a spicy question. On the one hand, it’s an important thing to ask. Is your idea filling a space in the market that desperately needs a solution? Does it have a target audience who will immediately recognise that they cannot live without it? Is it going to serve your mission and build the brand that you’ve been wanting to create?
On the other hand, it’s a question that can fill you with doubt, hold you back, and keep you from getting your idea off the ground.
It’s also really difficult to answer.
I told the 60 entrepreneurs gathered in front of me the truth. That with my first startup idea 10 years ago, I did 100 interviews to validate my startup idea. I sought out industry experts, potential customers, interested partners, anyone who I thought could support me on my journey. I asked all of them if they thought my idea was a good one, if they’d be willing to support me on my journey by buying the product when it was ready.
I got 60 yeses. And a few months later, I discovered they had all lied to me.
I learned the long and hard way how easy it can be to screw up these kinds of customer conversations. And I quickly realised that my mistake had been starting with the questions that might seem like the obvious ones. I’m talking about things like… What do you think of the idea? Do you like it? Would you buy it?
These kinds of questions render the whole process of holding these conversations useless, because nearly everyone will lie to you.
“Gerald, it’s brilliant. Call me when it’s ready…”
BS. None of them bought it. And that’s because the idea was terrible.
This was 10 years ago, and since then I’ve learned that there is a much better way to go about finding out whether your idea is a good one or not – and it might surprise you.
How can you find out if your idea is good or not?
Don’t talk about it.
I know, it sounds crazy. Set up all these meetings and then don’t start by talking about the product? You’d be forgiven for thinking I was joking.
But honestly? It works.
I’m not saying don’t hold these conversations. You absolutely should be talking to people, lining up your network, identifying the people who might be able to help you out on your journey.
I’m saying do the interviews, gather your people, find who you think might be interested in helping you get your idea off the ground – and then don’t mention your idea straight away.
Instead of talking about your idea, ask them about their lives, what they need, what they’re missing. Find out whether your idea could be a great fit for them, and then gently guide them around to the organic realisation that actually, your idea is the perfect solution.
And when they tell you that your idea is a great idea, ignore the compliment. Don’t gush, don’t elaborate, just ask them for a little more of their time, some money in the form of a pre-order or – and this is probably the most valuable – ask them to put their reputation on the line by connecting you to someone else to talk to.
If they’re willing to do any of those things, then you know that your idea is good. You’re not relying on false praise. You’ve left your meeting with an action, a result, a concrete item that you can count on later down the line.
If you can manage that, you’re onto a winner. Keep going!
Where to go for more advice on validating your ideas
I read many books trying to grow my startup, but none were better than The Mom Test. This book on how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you is the go-to book for when you are at the start of your startup journey. It’ll help you work out whether your idea is any good – and if it isn’t, what you might need to change. I re-read it at least once a year. No one pays me to talk about this book as much as I do. I just think it’s essential. Every entrepreneur should have a copy.
The Power of Community
In my experience, there is nothing more valuable than community. If you can throw yourself into a space filled with like-minded individuals who all bring different perspectives and skills to the table, you’re miles ahead of your competitors. And this is exactly why I founded Impact Brixton.
At Impact Brixton, community is at the heart of everything we do. We’re home to over 200 creatives, entrepreneurs, small business owners and social changemakers. Some rent a desk in our coworking space, others take advantage of our prime London location by subscribing to our virtual office package, and hundreds come through our doors to learn from our workshops and educational programmes.
The advantage of having such a big community? You can connect, collaborate and turn to a huge network of people who are on your wavelength. I’m talking skills swap, idea development, partnership opportunities, marketing boosts – the possibilities are literally endless.
And I see it happening all the time at Impact Brixton. Long-time Impact Brixton member Andry recently shared how took part in a live stream with MIT to 12000 people all over the globe thanks to a team she created with people she met at Impact Brixton. Two of our members ended up on BBC News talking about their initiative last year. And so many people have found a support network they can turn to for advice, support – or even just a cup of tea and a slice of cake when they fancy a break from working at home.
So if you’re trying to figure out if your idea is a good one, make a great start by turning to your community. And if you don’t have one, join ours – you’ll get a welcoming place to work, member discounts from Brixton-based businesses, and most importantly, you’ll join a strong network of creatives who could help you get your idea off the ground.
Gerald is a creator, mentor and entrepreneur and writer. Gerald dedicates much of his time to learning, writing and teaching about customer development, B2B sales and how WEB 3.0 has the potential for creating a sustainable and equitable future for creators.
Gerald co-founded a B2B enterprise software platform shodeck.com(previously BuyerDeck), which won Mass challenges UK startup of the year in 2015 and is used by tech companies globally to close sales deals faster.
Gerald has since co-founded Impact Brixton, an innovation hub in Brixton home to over 200 freelancers, entrepreneurs, and social change-makers and the only large-scale Black-owned co-working space in Europe. You can learn more about his companies, investments and projects via his blog.
Want to give Impact Brixton a try?
Our doors are always open (well, sort of – on weekdays members can access the space between 8:30am and 8pm, and our hosts are on hand to welcome any non-members from 9am – 6:30pm!). You can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to book in for a free tour of our space, get a day pass to try working in our space for the day, or jump right in and grab one of our affordable memberships. You’ll find us at 17a Electric Lane, Brixton, SW9 8LA – just around the corner from Brixton station, tucked away in the heart of Brixton Village.
You can also scroll down to sign up to our newsletter. This will mean that you stay in the loop with any events we have coming up, apply for opportunities from our partners, and get the heads up on new blog content filled with tips and tricks for creatives, freelancers, entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Starting a business is hard. But it’s easier if you’ve got a community! Come on down to Impact Brixton.