Are You Asking Enough Questions to Avoid Startup Nightmares?
Startup Dreams Can Be Great — But Validating With Reality Is Even Better
Working with early-stage startups, product designers, and corporate innovators puts me in a regular position of asking questions — uncomfortable questions most of the time. In fact, a friend of mine gave me the nickname of “Dream Crusher” the other day for my ability to ask the question that causes the entrepreneur to second-guess everything they’ve built.
As a practitioner and advocate of Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Business Model Generation, and Steve Blank’s “Get Out of The Building” mantra, I prefer to think of my level of questioning as Dream Refinement or Dream Launching, but I know it doesn’t always feel that way.
When You Find Out Your Assumptions Look Different In The Daylight…
Asking questions can sometimes crush a dream or two along the way — nobody likes finding out that their idea isn’t the most amazing one on the planet. Asking questions oftentimes brings out truths, realities, or just more questions. It puts people in the uncomfortable position of having to say, “I don’t know,” or “I haven’t thought of that,” or worst of all, “Yeah, that doesn’t make sense. I’ll have to start again.” Dream crushed.
When Startup Feedback Attacks… Listen Anyway
Asking the tough question is hard, but really hearing the questions (and subsequent answers) can be a lot harder. I love thinking about big, bold, audacious ideas. You can’t work in startup-world and innovation and not have some of that in you (reality is usually too harsh and crushing unless you have a little bit of the reality distortion field around you). But I’ve learned that without asking questions, early and often, and over and over, the optimistic approach alone can lead you swiftly down a wrong path.
We usually underestimate the depth and breadth of assumptions we carry around along with our dream/idea. We carry around unproven assumptions about the market, product, customer, competitors and everything else.
I usually preface my questioning with my own lack of knowledge on their business, market, expertise in their area. Push them back into the market to validate and learn. I don’t have to be right and neither do you. The market typically plays the ultimate judge and jury as required.
7 Questions To Get You Started On Crushing Your Own Dreams
If you don’t validate your assumptions with real learning from the real marketplace (not friends, families and the occational fool), your dream can lead to a nightmare that you could have avoided if you only questioned an assumption or two along the way.
Here are a few of the questions to get you thinking:
- What problem am I really solving and how painful is it? The more painful the problem, the better for early adoption and traction.
- How is my assumed customer attempting to solve the problem currently? Question your potential customer segments and what they are really doing or not doing to solve the pain point.
- How much do I really need to build to solve the problem or get validation? i.e. Do you need a complete iOS app, backend database, complete sales force, etc. — what can I fake/hack or cobble together to solve the customer’s problem?
- Who are really the competitors for this? Don’t forget about substitute options not just direct competitors.
- Who are my early adopters? Not everyone will love it or get it — where are my raving fans going to come from?
- What behaviors or changes will the customer have to do to use my product/service? How much inertia and friction exists within the current marketplace? Don’t underestimate the power of doing nothing. Change in any manner usually takes a lot to get people moving in your direction.
- How many people have you talked to about the problem you’re solving (and not the solution you’re pitching to solve it)? Friends and family don’t count either 😉
Doing it Right
When you do it right the results can be quite magical, dream-like actually. I love hearing from founders who tell me they went out and validated only to find out they were on the wrong track — “You saved me $100k in development, just by asking me to double check my assumptions on whether that feature was really needed.”
So when you are confronted with a Dream Crusher know that they probably care more about you reaching your dream and that all the questioning is done to help you get there faster, cheaper, and with a few more nights of sleep. Now go out and crush your dreams (or someone else might do it for you).
Thanks so much for reading! If you liked it, hit that share button below and ping me to talk more about your dreams (crushed or not).
— Brian Ardinger (@ardinger)