Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is the Chief Product Officer at Get Spiffy and the founder of teachingstartup.com. Joe has a long entrepreneurial history in the Triangle that includes Automated Insights, ExitEvent, and Intrepid Media. His columns are a regular part of WRAL TechWire’s Startup Monday package.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Just how good is your startup idea? It’s probably either better or worse than you think. But here’s the thing. The vast majority of startup ideas sound awful when communicated early and without the context of execution in the real world.

So how do you know you’ve got a viable idea before you spend a bunch of time and money chasing a mirage?

The best answer I’ve found is not to ask a bunch of random people for feedback, but to listen and learn as other entrepreneurs execute on their own ideas.

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio (Photo courtesy of Joe Procopio)

Shouldn’t you just go out and try and fail?

Yeah. Have fun with that. Failure sucks. I don’t like it and I try hard to avoid it.

I recently answered an entrepreneur’s question about taking his idea to a startup coach. Sure, I said. Go for it. Just do your due diligence and make sure you’re working with someone legit.

But in all honesty — that coach is probably going to spend a lot of your time listening to your idea only to come to the conclusion that you’ll need to prototype your idea into an MVP and take it to market to validate it.

As for the execution — how you’re going to build, launch, and sell the thing — that’s when the coach will likely get real vague but really positive. He or she will be your best cheerleader, and you don’t need that. You certainly don’t need to pay for it.

An entrepreneur’s most valuable resource is not money, not connections, it’s time. If you can maximize your time spent developing and executing a well-thought-out plan and growth path, you can greatly reduce your risk of failure. Or at least you can increase your odds of recovering from a number of mini-failures.

Don’t ask me or anybody else about your idea

We all want to talk about our ideas. I love talking about my ideas. And we all need validation. But here are a couple good reasons why shopping your startup idea for validation is a waste of your most valuable resource.

  1. Ideas are a dime a dozen. If people actually knew which ideas would be successful and which wouldn’t, startups wouldn’t fail.
  2. Early ideas are almost impossible to communicate properly. I’m going to relate your idea to what I know, and I’ll be wrong. Actually, what I’ll say, every time, is: “I don’t know if your idea is any good or not.” But that’s just me.
  3. The feedback you get 100% doesn’t matter. If someone tells you your idea is great or awful, they’re guessing just as much as you are.
  4. You’re asking the wrong question.

Here’s what you really want to know

Look. If you didn’t think your idea was great, you wouldn’t shop it. You know you have something great, you just don’t know how to get it into greatness form. That’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.

The question you should be asking is “How do I prove my idea is viable?”

Another entrepreneur, a college kid, asked me how he should go about validating an idea of his that, on further inspection, was actually a new version of a product that was originally a massive failure.

He didn’t know this, because he didn’t know enough about his own idea yet to know that to build what he wanted to build, he’d wind up rebuilding this historic failure of a technology.

But again, I live in my world — this is what I know, so I related his idea to my worldview and that’s what I saw. So did I tell him his idea was awful and he was doomed to repeat history? No. I pointed him to the original product, and told him to review the story and history of that product. That’s where his validation would start.

Because maybe he sees something I don’t. Or maybe he doesn’t, but he needs to figure that out.


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