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Startup Validation Online – The Sites, Social Media, and Communities to Which to Turn

Product Hunt (I’m here there, by the way), Quora, Facebook startup groups, and sprinkle in some Crunchbase and Google.

The last few weeks have kicked off a host of new incubator cohorts and in a series of sessions in which we’ve been involved, a critical but rarely addressed question was frequently asked: where online do founders validate ideas??

We do a lot of work with startups, hundreds, every year, through various programs such as our own. More, thousands of ideas emerge through that work, and in what we do for corporate innovation efforts. I shared this advice more times than I can count but it dawned on me that I’d never written it down nor shared as a resource, a guide to where to turn, online, to get the earliest of feedback about new ideas.

  1. Start with Product Hunt. I rarely find a new idea that hasn’t already been explored and shared there.
    • Granted, there are industries that really don’t make their way to Product Hunt, it’s ideal if you’re venturing in SaaS, apps, or online related work.
    • Search for the themes, words, and concepts related to what you’re thinking and explore what springs forth from other founders.
  2. Next, ASK. And the best places to do that (I don’t care what your favored new social thing is), are Quora and Facebook.
    • Ask questions related to your idea.
      • About the history of the industry
      • Ask about competitors
      • Investigate what strengths and weaknesses of failed attempts
      • Query if there are companies or investors interested
    • Turn to related and specific Spaces on Quora to reach more relevant audiences. I run Startups there, for example, that’s a great place to reach startup savvy people. If you’re working in the same industry as that in which we find ourselves, you could turn to the MediaTech Space, where we have thousands of peers.
    • On Facebook, do the same, look for Groups where related people can be found. We built Texas Startups so join us there, or in the countless other regional startup communities, from Arizona or Chicago to India or Zimbabwe.
  3. Now search. Query the hell out of Crunchbase and Google Google googolplex times to find every conceivable competitor, article, person, or past, related to what you’re thinking.

Your goal, in startup ideation, is NOT validation!!

Let me repeat that and bold it because there are WAY too many “advisors” and programs suggesting that if you have traction and validation with an idea, that it must be worthwhile.

Your goal in startup ideation is NOT validation

When overwhelmingly most ideas fail (90% of startups fail and disappear completely), your odds of finding success are better betting at a casino in Vegas.

Your goal is to eliminate all the bad ideas, wrong direction, known mistakes, and to uncover the weaknesses and threats (competitors) in what you’re doing so that you don’t waste your time on an idea that will fail.

Success isn’t luck nor timing, that b.s. that people spin to help justify how some people get so incredibly successful. Success is a result of pragmatism, tenacity, a great team, and a diligence and commitment to pivoting and sticking with a mission and vision, so that you keep evolving through ideas as you optimize and iterate what works.

Being a startup founder is among the hardest things in the world you can do. It’s probably the most dangerous job in the world, mentally and financially. And the last thing you want to do, because it’s just insane to proceed this way, is start and invest your time and resources in something merely because some people have affirmed it.

You are still most likely to fail. Having some agreement and support doesn’t prevent that.

The only thing that prevents failing is that you eliminate what’s wrong BEFORE you run out of resources, patience, or mental capacity, to keep going.

So, ideation: talk, ask, and query as much as you possibly can, to learn what not to do.

I’m so unwaveringly certain about this, that we’re actually building all that, to help entrepreneurs in a certain sector: media. While Facebook, Quora, Google, and Crunchbase, are the best overall resources available, they’re also generic and not completely comprehensive of everything, nor with the depth of specifics in every industry. So ask too, where else can you turn in your industry?? If you’re working in FinTech, find the best community for THAT. If you’re in CPG, turn there. We’re focused on media innovation so in that regard, in that case, ideate within a community like ours, a place where you can find industry specific professionals, other founders, and mentors, who know best a bit about what you’re thinking. Good luck!

Paul O'Brien

Silicon Valley technology and startup veteran, Paul O'Brien is affectionately known as SEO'Brien for an extensive past in the search industry. Today as CEO and Founder of MediaTech Ventures, O'Brien works in Venture Capital Economic Development, serving the investment and venture capital economies directly, through thought leadership, consulting, and startup development. More, a regional Director of the Founder Institute incubator and mentor in DivInc, Galvanize, and various startup Accelerators.

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  1. Completely agree with this, it’s not often that you see someone willing to tackle such this “elephant in the room” of a question that so many founders fail to address. There was a book written, a few moons ago, “The # steps to epiphany” (I don’t remember the number), but it was hugely helpful in this realm and I advise people to check it out. Sometimes it’s hard to see the frame when you’re already inside it – as the popular saying goes, “You can’t just keep all your lightbulbs in the same submarine expecting that no moss will grow there.”

  2. At UF we use an “Ideation Process” to assist founders in prepping to meet with us or our Board of Advisors – we’ve refined it over the years to assist potential entrepreneurs with evaluating their ideas. It’s attached for your convenience – simple, but effective.

  3. Great insight Paul O’Brien these are all great examples what are your thoughts on these alternatives?

    1. Conduct Customer Interviews to validate your solution to the problem you are trying to solve.
    2. Graphically design (Minimum Viable Visualization or MVV) the product and turning it into clickable prototypes in order to validate the fit between the identified problem and the proposed solution.
    3. Run cheap paid media experiment test to a pre-launch waitlist page.
    1. 1) Yes! But with whom and how? At scale. That’s what was driving this post – find those audiences where WHEN you don’t have customers yet? And can’t just meet them in person?

      2) 100%. Literally day 1 and 2 of our curriculum for media startups is oriented to getting up SOMETHING to start proving it.  

      3) Class today… Robert Schmidt made that very point

  4. I appreciate that you specifically suggest seeking out relevant groups on Facebook. I often find myself reminding founders about the need to validate outside of their circle of friends, seeking people who won’t feel an emotional attachment to sugar coat their feedback, and will also likely be a less homogeneous audience than their curated circle.
    A few additional thoughts to validate an idea “online:”

    1) Under asking questions, I’d specifically mention the power of surveys as well, even more specifically publicly shareable surveys with a link that can be easily passed around online.

    2) Pitch Competitions! There are plenty of pitch competitions that welcome idea-stage businesses and founders receive immediate feedback from a panel of judges. Most every pitch competition has figured out how to execute virtual pitches now. Beyond feedback, some even offer $s at the earliest stage. For founders on the East Coast, Envolve Entrepreneurship offers approximately twenty $25k grants each year as part of a business plan competition.

    3) A landing page to gather emails of those interested in learning more. “We’re inventing the next xyz…. Sign-up to stay informed of our early progress.” You’d be surprised by the results, and it’s a great way to A/B test early marketing language ideas as well. I also remind concept-stage founders and students that a landing page never has to be a permanent representation of your brand, can easily be changed, and can disappear just as easily after you’ve tested it. Wherewithal has been able to leverage the most basic landing page (with the least content) to build its initial niche community, query for feedback, and now source product testers from women who showed early interest.

    4) Apply to idea-stage or other “earliest-stage” accelerators you can find. A yes/no on acceptance offers validation in itself, and a founder can always ask for feedback if rejected. For example, one of the places I mentor (virtually) is The Founder Institute, which was built for idea-stage founders, is run in 200+ cities globally.

    1. Woot! Thank you! Nice connecting with you too because I run FI for Texas… and a lot of this material came out of my talk with the newest cohort this week. Where are you based Dan Myers?

  5. Business first and foremost is about relationships, not code, apps or any of that. In fact, a lot of people that have been successful with software, were successful only because they had the prior relationships to making the app. There’s always so much more to the startup success stories, they might make it look easy, but it’s never easy.

  6. Finding places where your ideal audience or persona mentors have also been helpful. Scheduling a mentor/advisor session to ask deep questions and hear the language and pain points (instead of proposing your idea for feedback first) gives invaluable data.

    1. Great point too often neglected as well. That your industry has experience professionals who want to pay it forward and help. Don’t just look for customers, look for thought leaders in what you’re doing

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