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Validate a Product Idea with Breadbox

If there’s one thing entrepreneurs are good at it’s pouring time and money into a product idea only to launch and find that a paying audience does not exist! Sometimes that is because we are overeager to get started doing what we love–designing and developing–and sometimes it’s because we don’t want to believe that our great idea doesn’t have a market.

Starting right

Validating a product idea isn’t easy. Even if you can validate the direction enough to start building a product, constant testing and refinement will always be needed. The idea and direction you start with will need to change and mutate as new insights are discovered by building a product and talking to customers.

Never think that you can plan enough at the beginning to grow on auto-pilot with zero strategy change. One of my favorite quotes comes from Eric Ries in The Lean Startup:

“Unfortunately, too many startup business plans look more like they are planning to launch a rocket ship than drive a car.”
-Eric Ries in ‘The Lean Startup’

What he is referencing is how too many entrepreneurs start a venture with excessive planning instead of building a product and validated learning. In The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki, one of the first snippets of advice he offers is don’t write a business plan! Instead, get started with the product idea and, if successful, write a business plan later. A business plan and excessive planning will be pointless if it turns out your product idea turns out to be bust.

So how should you start?

How to validate a product idea

Well, I like to start with an idea and validate that idea with as little work as possible. Validating can take several forms, including talking to your friends and peers, understanding a market from personal experience, and testing the online community.

  1. Talking with people you know personally is always a good idea as doing so will help frame your thoughts and present the concept in a solid manner. Friends can be forgiving if you don’t know how to clearly communicate, and willing to help refine your vision.

  2. Having a strong understanding of a problem and product solution personally is the best way to validate a product idea, at least as a direction. If you don’t understand a subject, like money management, and all the ins-and-outs and complexities then maybe you shouldn’t try to build a web app for money managers. Instead, focus on something you are not only personally interested in but a semi-expert.

  3. Validating online is essential as doing so will reach a broader audience and you will receive a wider range of input (good and bad, you may find that friends don’t want to hurt your feelings and won’t say no to your ideas).

Enter Breadbox

The easiest way to validate an idea is to see how many people are interested. Doing so is not a sure-fire success story, but the fastest way to test the feasibility of a product idea. This involves two steps:

  1. Building a marketing page. Create a simple marketing page explaining the product, what pain it solves and benefits expected, and possibly showing fake product shots.
  2. Drive traffic. Drive traffic to the marketing page with one conversion goal in mind, typically to get visitors to sign up for an email list. Though, I have seen people actually accept payments in advance of building a product. Whatever your direction, stay simple and go for one conversion goal.

After testing several product ideas myself, I decided to convert the code I kept using into a conversion page boilerplate called Breadbox. Breadbox is an open source project that makes spinning up a simple product page super simple. It’s not fancy at all, and that’s okay.

The default package offers a simple logo placement, tagline, and email field sign up field. That’s it! The Breadbox Github repo has more information and suggestions on how to personalize a fork of Breadbox, but to start and validate an idea the less work you put into it the better.

Examples of Breadbox in action

Here is an example of using the Breadbox splashpage. Initially for my HelixPowered product I threw up a simple splash page, added a catchy tagline and posted to a relevant community (Designer News in this case). In less than 24 hours, the site had just over 600 visitors and 197 email signups (so about a 30% conversion). While I know many people dislike product pages asking for emails with limited (or no) explanation or information, the thing is, it does work. And it’s a good way to test and validate an idea before investing too much time and money on a product that may not have a solid market.

Haters gonna hate, so it’s up to you whether you choose to use this method. What I did was use the initial splashpage, receive some email sign ups, send out an email, get some feedback, then when I had input on the product (and validation) I built out an extended version of the landing/marketing page for HelixPowered. IMHO, this is a great early path to starting a new product.

Helix Powered buildt with Breadbox

Another example of Breadbox in action, the splashpage for CourseMakers (which now has a full marketing page), an online teaching platform for designers and developers to build and sell digital classes.

CourseMakers built with Breadbox

Go forth and validate

I hope this helps in some way, and if you have ideas to validate maybe Breadbox will help you come to a conclusion sooner than later. I’d love to hear how you decide which projects to work on, and if anyone does use Breadbox to validate an idea post a comment to share it with everyone!

Start Small

Making a life change is tough. Living everyday life can be difficult enough, but changing old habits or starting new ones really goes against the nature of most humans (be comfortable and don’t rock the boat).

Stay small

By nature, I am terrible at exercising. I know exercising is good for my body and would improve my life expectancy, health, and day-to-day mood but committing to consistent exercise has never been possible for me. I’ve tried running on-and-off, going to a gym with friends, even yoga! Each is helpful for a time but never sticks.

Side story, growing up I never knew people worked out or prepared for physical feats (lay people that is, I knew professional athletes and Olympians practiced, but still not to the extent they actually do). Maybe because exercise wasn’t something practiced in my family beyond everyday play or bike riding. I learned a lesson the hard way when I joined the wrestling team my first year of highschool. At the first day of practice, I had to run five miles and it almost killed me. I was unaccustomed to running distances and never drank water. By the end of the run, I was hurting, and not knowing how to take care of myself during strenuous periods I guzzled a Powerade, with disastrous results. That was the first and last day of my wrestling team experience (embarrassing to say, but true).

Recently, I’ve decided to change tactics. When I start anything new I typically go big, jump in the deep end and expect to succeed without practice and when I fail it hurts. Like saying I’m going to run a mile every day, or design something new every day, or build a cool online product. Accomplishing a feat on a large scale for an extended period of time is very difficult, not just completing the task but the mental battery of completing or failing.

So, I’m starting small. Exercise is not my forte, but what I can commit to is five pushups a day. I’m using the Daily Goals iOS app to help me get started. Daily Goals is a habit tracking app that follows the Don’t Break the Chain productivity technique of marking off calendar days when you complete a task and tracking the number of sequential days you have completed that task. The larger that number the greater the pull to continue and not skip a day. I’m running with several simple habits at the moment but my five pushups a day habit is tallied at an eleven-day streak at the moment, and that feels good!

The other reason I chose a simple daily task like five pushups is to start my day off with a productive moment. I know that five pushups will only take about ten seconds to complete so there is no reason not to drop to the ground and complete when my reminder pops up at 8:45am. Five pushups sounds ridiculously silly, but I know it’s something I can accomplish and is still useful.

Start smart

My five pushup goal correlates closely with my dreams. I have a lot of ideas that I try to accomplish, but most seem to fizzle out because of the large and difficult scale and because I’m not prepared. My five push-up goal is a daily reminder to start small, start smart and scale as I go. Maybe soon I will add a five sit-up goal!

Just as I can’t expect a rigorous daily exercise regime to stick, I can’t expect my huge dreams to succeed without starting small and working daily.

How to Start a Startup with Y Combinator

Back in September I stumbled upon the How to Start a Startup course at Stanford. Every year Y Combinator teaches a class at Stanford for Computer Science majors, assisting and teaching hard skills on how to create and grow a new business. The fall 2014 class was the first time the class was made publicly accessible and available to anyone online.

I’ve never studied business or entrepreneurial endeavors, honestly I thought that was something you just do and don’t need to read about or study. But what I learned from the How to Start a Startup course was infinitely valuable, at least to expand my understanding of how many of the products and services I personally use work.

I suggest the class to anyone interested in a business endeavor, even if it is not a startup per se. You will still learn great lessons and new ways to approach problems.

What is Y Combinator?

Y Combinator is a startup accelerator, a place for entrepreneurs to find funding, advice, and connections over several months. Hopeful entrepreneurs apply to Y Combinator twice a year for the chance to be selected for the next batch of businesses to go through the Y Combinator program. Notable companies that went through the Y Combinator program include Scribd, Reddit, Airbnb, Dropbox, Disqus, and Stripe.

In exchange for a small percentage of equity, Y Combinator assists in building startups through advice, coaching, office hours, and more.

The Course

The class consisted of lectures every Tuesday and Thursday by some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the industry – from Peter Thiel, Ben Silbermann, Marc Andreessen, Ron Conway, and many more – and was facilitated by Y Combinator president Sam Altman. Altman was a part of the first batch of Y Combinator entrepreneurs back in 2005.

In addition to video lectures a list of Recommended Reading for each week included articles focusing on that weeks topic. Articles linked to the writings of many of the lecturers and Y Combinator staff members. Reading assignments were extensive and daunting, but extremely helpful and informative.

Basically for the months I followed along with the class I dropped all books I was reading because I had to focus on the reading assignments. I do think the reading is a necessity if you really want to learn from the class. It reinforces and expands on the ideas mentioned in the lectures.

Several social communities also existed for students following along with the class. A Facebook group exists with over 40K participants, and a Reddit group exists where students share project ideas and offer thoughts.

Start Learning

If you are interested in going through the full How to Start a Startup course or want to cherry pick a few lectures there are several ways to find the class content.

The home base for the course is on Sam Altman’s site: How to Start a Startup. You can find the videos on Youtube, and if you like that be sure to check out all videos by Y Combinator.

Check out Lecture 1 for a sample of the class:

Lecture 1 – How to Start a Startup
feat. Sam Altman & Dustin Moskovitz

Dream

Look: I’ve never had a dream in my life, because a dream is what you wanted to do but still haven’t pursued. I knew what I wanted to do and did it till it was done, so I’ve been the dream that I wanted to be since day one.

– Aesop Rock

It’s Time to Graduate, Part II

Welcome to the second installment of the It’s Time to Graduate word of advice column from a dude who, not so long ago, was in your place. In It’s Time to Graduate, Part I we covered the basics of what graduating designers and developers need to consider when leaving school and preparing for their first professional job. This time around I’m not going to focus on points to help designers and developers but talk about things I’ve learned and thought about in my years since entering the ‘real world’ that should help everyone.

Continue reading It’s Time to Graduate, Part II

Why Tom Cruise? Because ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Was Fantastic

If you have not yet seen Edge of Tomorrow I highly suggest you check it out. The film really is great and I believe will go down as one of the great sci-fi flicks – when it finally catches on. Because for some reason thus far, Edge of Tomorrow has performed spectacularly poorly at the box office, though ratings, including ratings by Rotten Tomatoes have been stupendous.

What I want to know is why was Tom Cruise chosen as the lead actor? Don’t get me wrong, he did a perfect job in the role (as he always does) but he just doesn’t seem to fit the role like another actor could.
Continue reading Why Tom Cruise? Because ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Was Fantastic

Just Poopin’ or How My Bowel Movements Became a Time of Productivity

How often do you have a bowl movement? It’s a legitimate question that can start conversations that last hours. Did you know the average human will spend 92 days on the toilet throughout their lifetime? I have a hypothesis the number will increase with the generation growing up at the moment, mostly due to the invention and adoption of smartphones and entertainment devices persistently on our persons and quick to make an appearance when we pop-a-squat.
Continue reading Just Poopin’ or How My Bowel Movements Became a Time of Productivity