Entrepreneurs are natural innovators – even before they earn the title of “entrepreneur”. An entrepreneur is defined by their innate curiosity, desire to push boundaries, and willingness to explore bold ideas: the same traits that led to some of the world’s top companies and inventions.
If you’re looking to start your own business, you likely already have an idea in mind. But, how do you test your idea to take it from a dream to a reality? With hard work, strategic planning, and the proper knowledge, you’ll be ready to open your doors in no time.
Why is Ideation the Hardest Step in Entrepreneurship?
Out of all the phases of business development, the transition from ideation to action is one of the most challenging and work-intensive. This stage of the process is where you lay the groundwork for your business to grow. Many budding entrepreneurs don’t know where to start simply because they usually haven’t ventured out on their own before or even experienced the entrepreneurial process up close.
Veteran entrepreneurs have the leg up in the ideation phase because they’ve been through the process before and likely have continued to develop early ideations throughout their careers. However, for newbies, the ideation phase often coincides with new entrepreneurs getting their feet wet and sorting out the basics of business ownership and what that entails.
That lack of familiarity with the business incubation and startup process also means that many entrepreneurs, especially first-timers, tend to underestimate the importance of testing their ideas before jumping into action. According to some statistics, a high percentage of startups fail – up to 90% of the time. Unfortunately, many businesses fail early in their lifecycles because they lack planning and proper testing.
Figuring out how to test your idea thoroughly and realistically is a crucial indicator of your business’s success in the real world, so early on, investing in the ideation and testing process is a must.
There are a few main reasons why you need to put your idea to the test before hitting the pavement:
#1: Avoiding the “Echo Chamber” Trap
In the early stages of ideation, it can be easy to get carried away. Once you stumble upon an idea that feels like a winner, it can be hard to take a step back and think objectively – especially when loved ones are showing you support. We call that the “echo chamber” or “mom test” trap.
While it’s okay to be excited about your ideas and seek support from friends and family, you don’t want to put the blinders on and rule out other ideas prematurely or fail to self-critique. Naturally, the people that support you and love you most will think your ideas are genius. Still, you don’t want to fall into the echo chamber trap without careful objectivity and examination – especially this early in the process.
If you don’t examine your ideas objectively, you could overlook critical flaws in your idea, miss out on opportunities for improvement, or even eventually regret your choices down the line.
#2: To Collect Data Through Collaboration and Lived Experience
One of the main goals of testing your idea is to collect data, and while it may sound intimidating, data is all around us. Data is the fuel that pushes your ideas into motion and allows you to make essential fixes along the way. You’re collecting data when you share your ideas with others and receive feedback. Now is the time to dive into your experiences as a consumer and get curious about how the experiences of others will impact your idea in the market.
Entrepreneurship, at its core, is all about being able to take yourself back to a state of child-like curiosity. When we’re children, we test and play and share our ideas without restraint. But, as adults, we start to feel weary of sharing ideas and being open to failure because we’ve been shaped by previous negative experiences leading to feelings of rejection, judgment, and shame.
Push past the fear of criticism and rejection and embrace data collection from the eyes of a child; play around, be open to mistakes, and remember there is no right or wrong answer. Every outcome gives you more data to work with.
Testing your idea creates the blueprint that tells you where to go next – but data gives you the pencil to design with.
#3: To Ensure Your Target Market is Well-Aligned
Many early entrepreneurs wrongly assume that they are the ideal target audience for their idea: after all, many entrepreneurs’ ideas come from their own lived experiences. However, you must explore the market without bias to determine where your best consumer alignment lies. Unless you are 100% positive that you are your target market, you shouldn’t be trying to test something inside your head.
To give your idea a fair shot in the business world, you need to take your idea out into the open among numerous consumer markets to determine the ideal target audience and how you can best appeal to them. When you make assumptions about what customers want, you’re jumping ahead and spending money with confidence in a way that you don’t have permission to do just yet – fight the temptation to jump ahead and refocus on where you’re at now and not where you would like to be. Once you’re empowered to take action and put your idea to the test, you need to know how to test your idea. So, where do you start when it comes to testing?
Workshop your Idea
When first starting out, especially if this is your first venture into entrepreneurship, you want to master the art of the elevator pitch so that when you get to the pitching room floor, it’s second nature – that means the more practice, the better. While many hear the word “workshop” and feel intimidated, workshopping your idea is a gradual process you can approach at your own speed.
Start with the basics and meet yourself where you’re at, pitch to yourself in the mirror while you get ready, or record yourself on video until it feels comfortable and natural. Surround yourself with inspiration, so you know what a confident and concise pitch looks and feels like. There’s nothing wrong with testing your idea on friends and family first. This is a great place to start, as long as you beware of the “mom test” trap we discussed above.
Early workshopping helps you gauge how audiences will react to your idea and how easily you can explain it in layman’s terms – remember the KISS acronym: keep it super simple. From there, you can workshop your idea on acquaintances, connections you might know in relevant industries, and even on polls and networking forums. Keep detailed notes of your interactions and experiences while workshopping, as they will come in handy later as you grow.
Once you’ve mastered the casual pitch, you might want to take things to the next level and explore what other resources for entrepreneurs exist. At this stage of the process, it’s essential to lean on the community and resources around you. Remember: entrepreneurship is a journey of self-growth as professional growth – the more you learn along the way, the more you’ll have to pour into your business.
There’s a wealth of resources for ideating entrepreneurs available for free or low cost, from local business incubators to online courses and networking opportunities to connect with other ideators and successful entrepreneurs that have been in your shoes before. Surrounding yourself with ideators and entrepreneurs can help build your confidence and help you learn from the lessons of others.
Get To Know Your Ideal Customer Through Market Research
If everything goes to plan, the workshopping phase should prepare you to either step back to the drawing board and reconsider your target market or help you feel supported to move ahead. Now, it’s time to start setting some early action in motion to gather data from the market response. Aim to paint a clear image in your mind of how your ideal customer looks and thinks. Consider your ideal customer a close friend. You need to know their pain points, likes, dislikes, and motivations.
A great way to get inside the minds of your ideal customers is to pick their brains. Market validation services can be a great tool to help you paint a more detailed picture of your ideal customer through direct surveys. While it requires an investment in time and assets, you’ll gather invaluable insights into your predicted customer base – from their likes and dislikes, what products and services they would be interested in, and how they spend money.
At this phase of the journey, you can also begin developing mockups of branding ideas, early website pages, and advertisements with calls to action to further determine your idea’s strength and where your personal skillset lies. For example, if you have a background in website development, you might feel comfortable tackling that in-house but require outside experts for marketing and advertising needs.
The market research phase is a great time to reflect on the insights you’ve gathered thus far. What lessons did you learn from workshopping? Have you noticed any trends concerning your business idea? How can you set yourself up for success early? What will your needs look like as your business idea develops further into fruition?
Keep Your Friends Close… And Your Competition Closer
Before you hit the ground running, you need to know the arena you’re walking into and what you’ll be up against when your “game time” comes around. In many ways, the entrepreneurial journey is similar to the process that professional athletes follow; while you might not be playing the Super Bowl your first season out, you need to learn about the industry “giants” around you and how they play the game. That’s where industry landscape analysis comes in.
An industry landscape analysis prepares you to put your research and testing to work as you transition from the development phase into launching your business in the real world. Keep three goals in mind as you compile your analysis: understand the pain points that companies in the field face, competitor wins and losses, and what could be coming next in your industry.
This report can be as straightforward or formal as you like, but it must include a few key components: insights into the current and future state of the industry and your main competitors. Industry analysis can also be a great place for collaboration – leaning on your networking contacts, especially in-industry, can provide you with a fresh perspective. This is especially important if your product or service exists inside a volatile industry with trends that frequently change, such as technology or finance.
Remember: a little competition is healthy, and almost no entrepreneur enters a market unopposed. This isn’t about seeing competition as a threat – it’s about identifying ways to make your idea even stronger by learning about what your competitors do well (and the weak points they have that your idea can ideally solve).
Want to test your idea but need help getting started? Clear Function is here to help. Our team of startup development experts has experience working with real entrepreneurs every day, at every phase of the lifecycle – so you can rest easy knowing your business is in good hands. Our goal is to help you minimize risk and get to market quickly. With marketing specialists, business coaches, and top-notch developers, we’re here to increase your chances of success.