I do not trust my judgement
April 12, 2007 2:45 AM   Subscribe

How do I objectively evaluate an idea for a startup that I have to find out if it is any good?

I've been working on a software application for near to 6 months. I've shown my concept to 4 different potential investors, and there was no interest or follow-up.

Personally, I believe in my idea, but there is this possibility that I am making a misjudgment because I have invested a lot of time in it. The two recent rejections also point in that direction.

It's easy to look at someones idea and think - that's bullshit. It's not that easy for your own idea. How do I do that? How can I disconnect myself so much that I can judge the reasons why such an application would not be profitable?

My friends and the normal non-geek people who I have shown the idea to *love* it, and say they would use it. But the people that matter don't seem to care about it at all.

(Note: I do not want or require funding, I just introduced the application to judge potential interest).

So: How do I objectively judge if my idea sucks or not?
posted by markesh to Technology (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't think it's really possible to be objective about something that you've put hundreds or thousands of hours of work into. Really, you just have to trust the judgment of others when it comes to things like this. The fact that 4 separate investors weren't interested isn't necessarily proof that it won't be successful - investors have missed the boat LOTS of times in the past. You could put it out there for free or go the shareware route, and see how popular it becomes. Then let the money roll in some other way (like having your app bought by a big ol company). Or, you could just keep hitting investors hoping to find one that'll buy into your vision.
posted by antifuse at 3:21 AM on April 12, 2007

1) Put it out for download on the internet. Then you will know. You care what your users think? Then ask. Sourceforge.net is an option, if you want to go the open-source route.

2) Software "advice" from investors is tricky. My two roommates just went through this whole cycle... they had lots of investors tell them it was great, but didn't follow up with funding. Investors are interested in you and how you will make money off of the product; they have no interest in the product itself (in fact, I know some investors interested in some pretty shitty software, only because they thought the business plan was reasonable). So they will not be objective about anything but your business sense. And if there's only one of you, and you're doing it because code is fun, then you're not going to get anything useful out of them.
posted by olinerd at 3:53 AM on April 12, 2007

What sort of application is this? If it's web based, just put out a free version and boostrap, the investors will come with the users.
posted by Firas at 4:06 AM on April 12, 2007

Step 1: Don't ask the opinion of random internet strangers who haven't seen your application.

Step 2: Put your application 'out there' and see if it's true that "if you build it, they will come". If they do, kick back and wait for Google or Yahoo to buy you. If they don't, it might be a bad (or untimely) idea.

Don't rely on the opinion of investors to determine the worth of your project... they use a very specific yarstick to measure worthiness, and they could care less about what your application actually does as long as the return on investment is high enough... even if getting that return destroys the original spirit of your app by saddling it with advertisements and sign-up fees and DRM and the foul stench of unrepentant evil.
posted by foobario at 4:26 AM on April 12, 2007

Go back and ask the 4 potential investors for honest feedback. Tell them you are no longer looking for funding, you simply want the truth about your software in order to do better the next time. Mean it.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:29 AM on April 12, 2007

So: How do I objectively judge if my idea sucks or not?

You don't do it by showing it to friends. They will always "*love* it" and also never tell you how fat you look in that outfit.

But few people will lie when it would cost them lots of money. If four out of four investors decided not to put their money into it, you might be going to the wrong investors or you might be a bad salesman, but maybe you and your product just don't look like a potential source of profit.

Forget how nifty it is inside (the stuff you're probably obsessing over). Instead, ask yourself some rude questions your friends won't ask you: Who the hell would want to buy your crappy looking product? The thing looks like it was designed for a high school project. Who the hell would invest in something from such a grungy, sloppy, dumb-looking guy? And what's that funny smell? Why would someone pay to use that? People can get the same thing in good shareware (or do it easily with pen and paper, or there are already 74 similar web sites available, etc.). The most we could charge for that thing is two bucks -- you honestly think we can sell millions of copies? And the user would have to do hours and hours of work before the thing started to pay off at all, and then it would pay off in only a small way. And what advertiser is ever going to risk being associated with that thing?

Stuff like that. Be a dickhead to yourself. Make shit up. Try to imagine ways in which it will disappoint the user, ways it will actually cause them trouble, ways it will lose their money, dishonor their women, and steal their goats. Assume their are bad things about your product, then go looking for them.

And if they aren't fixable, be ready to forget it and start a completely new project.
posted by pracowity at 4:56 AM on April 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

You don't need money, so why are "potential investors" the "people who matter"? The people who will use it are the people who matter, and you said they love it.

Of course, some of those people were your friends and might not be unbiased. Put the app out there and see what happens.
posted by DU at 5:13 AM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is the application such that you could provide a private beta with interested parties? Or is it not that kind of thing?

I've approached some folks in the related industries for some of my code before and worked out private internal tests at their organizations. This has been a great source of brutally honest user feedback and QA rolled into one.
posted by bhance at 6:04 AM on April 12, 2007

What DU said. If you don't "require funding", forget investors. Just go out and start selling the software or put it out as freeware or shareware.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:28 AM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is why business plans were invented. I know that you feel that you don't want funding, but you will get your most honest answer out of people when their money is on the line. You don't have to collect money, but you might find your best feedback when trying to sell something.

Secondly, a business plan is a structured evaluation of your idea and its competitors. You'll have to evaluate its strengths, weaknesses, threats and challenges of your idea as well as that of your competition. You might have a hard time looking at your idea objectively right now, but breaking it down for a business plan will give you the tools to look at it piece by piece and there will be many aspects that you won't be able to lie to yourself about.

There are many books that will tell you how to write a business plan step by step. Still don't trust yourself? Find a business students willing to help you out. I've found that many are happy to cooperate if you can give them input about their own ideas from a technical standpoint.
posted by Alison at 8:01 AM on April 12, 2007

"Prelaunch" days at a startup are the scariest, and doubt is normal reaction. Be careful not to look for one silver bullet of validation, such as a big, fat funding offer from a VC or approval from some industry vet. Usually that will just lead you astray. What you need to do is break down this problem into manageable parts.

There's two main issues - will people use the software and will people buy it? First you'll need to figure out your ideal audience, as close as you can tell. Maybe it's 18 year olds in college who like music, maybe it's 50 year old female CEOs. Then run a survey with a group of your potential audience, either through some survey company or find some on the street... you get the idea. Most of these people will tell you half-truths too, but it will at least get you closer to knowing if the idea is valid or not.
posted by lubujackson at 8:40 AM on April 12, 2007

Ask the people you pitched to for honest feedback, after that, forget about investors (for now, at least). Instead, find ways to answer the following questions:
  • Who are the likely users of this product?
  • How many of them are there?
  • Is this user base growing? How quickly?
  • How much would they pay for the product (or how much revenue per user can you get through other means, like advertising)?
  • How many copies would you have to sell for it to be worth your while?
  • What will you have to do to ring up that many paying users?
  • Is your product actually compelling to your intended users?
  • What do your target users use in lieu of your product now?
There will be a lot of guessing involved in answering the questions, but you can educate those guesses by looking at comparable products & competitive offerings. The upside is that you will probably learn a lot in the process.

The best way to figure out whether your product is compelling to it's intended user population is to ask them. You'll need to find ways to separate yourself from the process. Even if they aren't your friends, your passion will work against getting an objective opinion. You probably want an intermediary to present the product ask the questions and you want to make sure that they aren't trying to sell it. You can also take this opportunity to confirm pricing assumptions. There are people you can hire who do that sort of public opinion research for a living, but if you think things through ahead of time, you can probably get a good first pass done with the help of a friend.

Once you get through the exercise, you might find that you do indeed need some investors to market the product and operate until you get to the break even point. If that's the case, then you also have to figure out how many you have to sell to make it worth the investors while too, and see if the thing still makes sense. Investors are also likely to take you more seriously if you've been through the exercise of drafting a business plan.
posted by Good Brain at 9:11 AM on April 12, 2007

Investors aren't judging how good/bad your idea or product is, they're judging the likelihood that they will make a good return on giving you their money.

Friends are also not useful for feedback unless they are in your target audience. Nothing will clarify your feelings on your work better than putting it in front of real users as quickly as possible.

Be clear on this: Building a software application and running a startup are two different things. Don't confuse an evaluation of one with a judgment on the other. Friends have far too complicated a set of constraints on their interaction with you to be useful as a sole source of feedback.

That being said, you need to believe in your work enough to convince the whole rest of the world to come along. Just put it out there and start promoting it, and you'll know your answer quickliy enough.
posted by anildash at 1:53 PM on April 12, 2007

« Older Algorithm to display a schedule calendar with...   |   Scared of east London Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.