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The Critical First Step Toward New Product Success

Entrepreneurs are almost always sure they have a product or service idea that will sell like hotcakes. But just to be safe, they tell their Mom the idea and ask what she thinks. Guess what? She thinks it’s a great idea. She may not be sure, but she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings or dampen your enthusiasm.

But if you are not convinced yet, ask a few more people. Most people start with people they know. They tell them their idea, their vision, and ask what they think. Do they think it’s a good idea? Do they think people will buy the product or service? Not surprisingly, these people also agree with your Mom. It is or it could be a good idea, and they think people will buy the product or service.

Great. Now you have some facts to back up your hypothesis. But you are still not 100 percent sure, so you find some people in your targeted market to interview. You repeat the process. Tell them your product idea and ask if they think it’s a good idea? And if they think people buy the product? Again, you get a positive response.

Now you are confident and ready to start developing the business. But, there is only one problem, you don’t have real facts upon which to build your business. The “facts” you have are only “opinions” from people who don’t want to hurt your feelings or dampen your enthusiasm. Just like your Mom, people want to be nice. Besides, they are not committed to buying it, so there is no downside for them.

Stop Using False Facts

If you start your business using these false facts, your chances of succeeding are not great.

But, there is an answer. Rob Fitzpatrick, author, and entrepreneur, started several businesses that failed using that kind of customer research. He finally realized what the problem was.

Most people do these interviews incorrectly. You have to know how to talk to customers in the right way to get real information. You can’t show them the product idea first and then ask questions. If you do, here are some problems he found:

  • We spend too much time collecting data that’s too unreliable for important decisions.
  • Sometimes we don’t realize the data we are collecting is worthless (even misleading)
  • Not all data is good data — and asking customers what they think of your idea almost always leads to bad data
  • We assume customer feedback is scientific and whatever they tell us is scientific and counts as learning. But, it’s easy to bias the people we are talking to. In fact, once you tell them you have an idea, they are already biased beyond repair because they don’t want to crush your dreams,

If people tell you your idea is bad, that’s not good data either. Why? People are bad at predicting both 1 which ideas are good and 2, what they, as customers, are going to do, buy, use in the future,

Even VCs are looked at as the best predictors, are wrong more than they are right. If they are worse than a coin toss, how seriously can you take anyone’s opinion?

Potential Customers are not responsible for showing us the truth, It’s our responsibility to find the truth, We do this by asking good questions. Good questions give us actionable insights because we never asked about our idea. In these conversations, only talk about their problems, how they impacted their lives, and how they solved them.

They will tell you the truth when they talk about themselves and past or current problems. Identifying and validating “the problem” is what you want. Your job is to determine if they have the problem you are trying to solve, and if that problem is painful enough, they are willing to pay money to solve it. Everyone has problems they know about but have a workaround or are not painful enough to fix them.

To Get The Information You Want, Ask Important Questions

Ask scary questions you have been unintentionally shrinking from. You can tell when it’s an important question when the answer could change or disprove your business. Don’t get stuck on the small things. Look at the big picture first. When you have the big picture, you can drill down on specific items.

Also, learn to love bad news. If you have $75k to start the business and you spend $3k finding out your idea isn’t going to work. That’s good news. You can’t build a business on lukewarm responses.

Don’t challenge anyone; you are there to listen

When you challenge the customer. “No, I don’t think you get it” They will say your idea is great if you are annoying enough. You can’t learn anything unless you are willing to shut up and listen, The More You talk, the worse you are doing,

Following are some of Rob Fitzpatrick’s examples of good and bad questions.

Do you think it is a good idea?

Bad question. Only the market can tell you if your idea is good or bad. Everything else is just an opinion and opinions are worthless.

Would you buy a product that did X?

Bad question. You are asking for opinions and hypothetical from overly optimistic people who want to make you happy. The answer is always yes which makes it worthless. If its about the future, it is probably worthless.

How much would you pay for Y?

Bad question. The number makes it feel scientific and true but people will lie to you if they think it’s what you want to hear.

What would your dream product do?

OK question. if you ask and follow up. Generally, people know what their problems are but don’t know how to solve them.

Why do you bother?

Good question. It gets you from a perceived problem to the real one. It helps you get to why and helps you understand their goals.

What are the implications of that?

Good question. It distinguishes between “I will pay to solve that problem” and “that’s annoying but I can deal with it”. Some problems don’t actually matter.

Talk me through the last time that happened?

Good question. Learning through their actions instead of their opinions. This provides insight and answers lots of questions like how they spend their days, what tools they use, who they talk to, constraints on their day. Now does your product fit into their day and life? What other products or software and tools does your product need to integrate with? Finding out about how someone does a task will show you where the problems and inefficiencies really are, not where the customer thinks they are.

What else have you tried?

Good question. What are they using now? How much does it cost and what do they love about it or hate about it? How much would those solutions be worth and how traumatic would it be for them to switch to a new solution? Note: People stop lying when you ask for money.

How are you dealing with it now?

Good question. This gives you a price anchor. It’s rare for someone to tell you precisely what they will pay you, they will often show you what it’s worth.

Where does the money come from?

Good question, This is a must ask in B2B businesses. Who has to approve, who has the budget, who influences the purchase.

Who else should I talk to?

Good question. End every conversation with this question. Is there anything else I should have asked? People want to help you. Give them an excuse to do so.


Your first job is to identify and validate a real problem that people will pay to solve. You don’t need compliments; you need real facts. Focus on the data you need to make your decision and avoid bad data.

Generally, people do not want to hurt your feelings and tell you what you want to hear. Find targeted people and have a casual conversation. During that conversation, ask good questions.

Do not tell the person you are interviewing about your idea. You are there to listen, not talk. Your job is to find out the problem. The next step is to find the solution prospects are willing to pay money to solve.

At this time, you are trying to identify and validate the problem. Keep having meetings until you stop hearing new stuff. Later, you will have additional conversations with them or others about your product.

This is the end of part one. Part two covers getting information on the product itself and the necessity of getting a commitment of some kind,


You will be more than happy