Last night I had the opportunity to facilitate an Ideation Bootcamp for the newFort Lauderdale-Boca Chapter of the Founder Institute. I am proud to be a graduate of the Seattle chapter and led the effort to organize a chapter in Tampa-St. Pete in 2012 (with moderate success). The highlight of the workshop is listening to prospective founders pitch their ideas. Almost all of them were awful.
To be fair, some of the ideas were not bad in and of themselves. They were just half-baked, which is to be expected. The first test of a good idea is how clearly it can be expressed in less than 30 seconds. No founder does this well without feedback, refinement and lots of practice. But let’s back up to the methodology that is required to determine whether an idea is any good, before it is pitched to an audience.
The first step is to brainstorm everything possible about your idea. Why do you love it? What are its core features and benefits? What emotions does it elicit? Is the gem of the idea driven by your passion, curiosity, anger, or unique insight? Is it just a possible money-maker…a quick flip, or something you would be willing to devote the next 20 years of your life to build? Clarifying the “core driver” of the idea will help you understand its potential from a commercialization perspective.
The second step is to evaluate how it is different or better than the current way of doing things in the space in which it will live. Is it an improvement in an existing product or service, or is it exploiting an under served market or niche? Is it an entirely new product or application, capable of creating an entirely new market? Who has succeeded and failed in this space and why? Is the idea really needed? Is it a must-have or a nice-to-have? How you evaluate what it can be will have significant ramifications on how you will develop it and what it will take in terms of time, money and talent.
The third step is to research the market need and customer appetite. You should survey potential customers, hold informal focus groups and test keyword ads on Facebook, Linkedin and Google to see how people respond. You should buy and use every competing product. You must assess the core value proposition in the eyes of the prospective customers. It is easy to fall in love with a bad idea. This step will force you to pivot or kill the idea.
If the idea still has merit after completing the first three steps, discuss it with ANYONE and EVERYONE who will listen. And you must do this with complete objectivity, as if you were a scientist observing the results of someone else’s experiment. You can not sell the idea in 30 seconds. You simply present it, and then you LISTEN.
That was one thing that few of the participants in last night’s ideation boot camp did. The goal is to get as much feedback as possible, not interrupt people and try to overcome their objections. Pitch it and then SHUT UP. Listen to what they are saying. They may love it or they may hate it, but more than likely, they won’t fullyunderstand it because you are not expressing it clearly enough.
This is always the hardest part of the ideation process. You must be willing to let go of a bad idea, or at least go back to the drawing board knowing it is only half-baked. It is human nature not to kill your creation. But before you max out your credit cards and devote the next several (very precious) years of your life to an idea, you might be better off to kill it and look for another.
Choose and commit to an idea only after you are able to express it clearly and concisely — and it elicits a positive, consistent response. Upon expressing it, people should “get it” immediately, not have to think about it or ask you 20 questions to clarify it. Your solution should be compelling. There should be no question who will buy it and why. Then proceed to build, test, observe, improve, re-build, rinse-and-repeat.
And remember the most important thing about all great ideas: they are realized by great execution, and always turn out to be something different than what was originally envisioned.