How To Test If Your Idea Is A Company

Once you have an idea and want to see if it can be a business one of the first things you want to do is get as much customer feedback as possible to help you determine things like the problem you want to solve, how big it is, who has the problem, what is your solution, how much you charge, etc.  Getting this information is critical to your success, but unfortunately, this is often the time when the "company" has the least money and fewest resources (in fact it might not even be a company yet).  So, how do you get customer feedback?  Well, interviews is one way, but are best if combined with surveys.  There are great tools like Zoomerang which help collect and analyze survey data but probably the biggest challenge is getting enough of the right people to answer your questions.  Here are a couple of tricks on how to get many (and meaningful) responses:

  1. Get someone (or several people) to send the survey invite out who individually or through their corporate affiliation has the credibility to warrant a higher response rate than you might get personally.
  2. Do what JD Edwards does with the survey they send to every new car buyer (include a crisp new dollar bill). You can attach $1 to an email using Paypal if you’re doing the survey electronically. If you give something outright to them, you create a perception that they "owe you a response" and presumably it works for JD Edwards (and that guy who holds the door open for me every time I go into 7-11).
  3. Join LinkedIN’s premium service so you can send InMails directly to targeted people asking for their expertise. There are a lot of people on LinkedIN and you should be able to find some who fit the profile of your target customer.
  4. Find the blogs of ideal survey respondents and send them a message through their blog. Most people are personally attached to their blogs and will take the effort to respond to people who they know are reading their blog.
  5. Follow up your email invitation 24 hours later with a phone call. If you take the time to call and can get them on the phone for a brief conversation explaining why you are so interested in their opinion, you will get a higher response rate.
  6. For almost every industry however big or small, there is usually one or more trade groups. Reach out to the organizers of the trade group(s) and ask for their help in getting survey respondents. Ask them to fill out the survey.
  7. Start your own blog and use it as a tool to write on topics of interest for the market you seek to serve. Post your survey on the blog and post summary data that others will find useful.
  8. Promise to share results of the survey with survey respondents.
  9. Ask respondents to refer one or two other people who they know that would be good participants in the survey.
  10. Offer to donate an hour of your time to each respondent to some nonprofit you select. Or maybe select two or three and let them choose which one they prefer at the end of the survey.

All of these tricks utilize more time than money which for most startups is more available.