Ask any experienced entrepreneur for startup advice and one of the first things you'll hear is, "Make something people want." In fact, that's startup accelerator Y Combinator's slogan.
Oddly enough, though, many entrepreneurs fail to do just that; in fact, according to one study, "no market need" is the top reason startups fail. Great businesses solve real problems, meet real needs and do so in a way that delivers a major improvement over current products or services.
So how can you validate your idea and feel confident it will be embraced by the customers you intend to satisfy and serve?
1. Gather feedback using a landing page.
Plenty of startups gauge interest by creating a landing page for a new product or service. Describe what you'll make, pique customer interest, and then ask for feedback.
Email addresses so you can alert visitors when you're ready to launch
Actual feedback on the idea
What features potential users want you to incorporate
If nothing else, you'll see how much interest your landing page sparks.
2. Create an "early bird" offer.
Validate your idea by sweetening the pot and offering early adopters something they hopefully can't refuse.
Just make sure the offer isn't too great. Otherwise, when your value proposition returns to a more "normal" level, first-time customers may also decide to be last-time customers.
3. Try a Kickstarter campaign.
Many Kickstarter campaigns fail to generate interest, but that can be a good thing, too. Worst case, it's a sign that you aren't making something people want, or that you aren't marketing it in a way that engages potential customers. Either way, you learned something.
Publish a Kickstarter campaign, preferably with text, video, and images, and you'll soon know whether you plan to make something people actually want. If you're looking for an example of a successful Kickstarter campaign, check out this Inc. article on how "Exploding Kittens" set a Kickstarter record -- and launched a company.
4. Run a few advertising tests.
"Build it and they will come" only works in the movies. Plenty of entrepreneurs fail -- even after creating a great product or service -- because they failed to successfully share the benefits of that great product or service.
Run a few ads to test different marketing strategies. Facebook advertising, for example, is relatively inexpensive. Run some A/B tests to determine which message resonates best.
And while you're at it, if you're unsure which features to include in your product, run a few A/B tests on those as well.
Making something people want definitely includes your marketing and advertising strategies.
5. Determine whether people don't just say your idea is great, but will actually pay for it.
Friends and family are great sources of feedback, but they're also much more likely to tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what you need to hear. (After all, who wants to hurt Uncle Bob's feelings?)
That's also true with people you don't know. If you just ask for opinions, most people will be gentle.
But if you ask them to buy -- then you find out what they really think. Seek feedback. Seek advice. But don't stop there.
Do what every great salesperson does and ask for the sale. If a product isn't available yet, ask for a purchase commitment when it is available.
That's the only way to know whether you've made something people really want, and the best way to know if your idea will build the foundation for a successful business.