We constantly preach the benefits of getting your idea in front of actual customers to get validation and important feedback that will help shape your product. The Lean Startup says “get out of the building” and talk to people, and that works, but it can be a daunting prospect confronting strangers and asking them questions.
Recently I’ve been toying with an idea related to a problem I have. My girlfriend and I live together and like cooking, but when we’re out and about we have no idea what we have at home in the cupboards. It’s annoying and I want to work out an effective way to keep track of this. I’m fed up of buying things I already have and want to avoid the situation where one vital ingredient is missing mid-way through putting a tasty meal together. On top of that we want to share the cost of shopping but struggle to keep track of who’s paid for what.
While I started off without a solution (and still don’t have one!), there were some seeds of an idea and I was confident that I could design something that works for us. But what was that going to be? Are there people out there that shared this problem? If so, how were they solving it? I was curious!
The thought of getting out into the street and accosting strangers didn’t appeal and I don’t really know somewhere I could go to find the people who I know have this issue (anyone with a kitchen who actually uses it). However, there are plenty of places online for people to get answers to queries on anything from the extremely technical to the shockingly mundane. Perfect.
I’ve been using Stack Exchange for years to solve tech problems, but there are boards for every topic under the sun. Did people here have answers for me? Turns out they did.
Getting some real feedback was easy – and the best bit? No one even knew I was researching a product!
The replies ranged from attacks on my intellect (harsh but fair) to genuinely interesting approaches people had taken to a shared annoyance.
I’m not sure I have enough to show a real path yet but a few minutes spent chatting on a forum has given me some great insight. For the time being I might still be a couple of eggs short while baking that cake but at least I know it’s not just me.
“Finding the crowd” does not need to mean going and asking strangers in the street. There are plenty of other places to find people to learn from – your friends, enthusiast clubs, co-working spaces or online forums, for example. Have a think about who may share the problem you’ve identified, and think where they might gather. In my case, my problem was very generic so any gathering of people would suffice – I just fell to an online forum I use heavily.
There are no excuses. Go out and learn from the crowd. They might just help.