So, you have a great idea. Now what?
You’re passionate about an idea you have for a software product but you’re not sure where or how to start. Figuring out the next steps can seem overwhelming. It’s narrowing and focusing on an idea that provides real value and your execution that’s going to make or break the opportunity. There are a couple key steps that you can start, without a monetary investment.
Validate your idea
Before you invest significant time and money into your idea, validating your idea is a critical first step towards success. Some of the questions you immediately want to answer are: Do other solutions exist? If so, where do they fall short? How does your idea better address the problem? Is it truly a problem for people in the real world? Is it enough of a problem that they would pay for a solution? Would enough users pay enough to sustain a business? How much would you pay for a solution if you were in their position?
At this stage, a gut-feel answer for these questions may be enough to warrant moving forward with idea exploration, but you will want to spend some time reinforcing your instincts with, at least, anecdotal evidence if hard data is not available. You can do a good deal of leg work on your own without any monetary investment. Research existing solutions that are both software/technology-based and more traditional approaches. Seek out experts in the space to help you understand the problem domain in greater detail. After talking with a knowledgeable industry expert, you may find that adequate solutions already exist. If they don’t, or there are substantial gaps in the existing solutions, now is the time to continue exploring your idea.
Outline the problem and benefits of your solution - why is your problem unique?
Look at the problem you are trying to solve through the eyes of potential users and write a problem statement. This doesn’t have to be long but it will benefit you greatly to put it “on paper.” If you can’t articulate it in a compelling written statement, you may want to go back to step one and talk with more subject matter experts to help create a more complete problem statement.
This will be the foundation of your solution. Software products that try to solve a non-existent problem (or a poorly understood one) are destined to fail. No matter how well you execute in building and marketing your solution, no one will buy or use it if it doesn’t address a real world problem.
Define what success looks like
Once you have decided that you have a beneficial solution to a validated problem, you should define your success criteria using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) business goals. It’s important to define your success criteria so that you can focus your efforts on achieving those goals and use them to guide your decision making throughout the rest of your journey. Creating and using SMART goals will be an important part of your process and can be iterated and refined as you learn more and continue to develop your idea. Even though these goals will be iteratively defined as your solution matures, you should spend the time to make sure that you have thoroughly thought through what will make your project a success. This will save you time and money later as it will help eliminate rework and head scratching when asking yourself, “why did we do that?”.
Gather feedback from a lot of people - particularly industry experts
Now that you have identified a problem, outlined a potential solution and defined what will make that solution a success, you should put that work back in front of your trusted experts. As you are explaining it to someone who really understands the problem you are trying to solve, does it still hold up? Are they able to see the value in the solution you are describing? Make sure you do this with people you know will give you honest feedback. It’s easy for the expert to feed off your excitement and turn into your biggest fan. After all, you are an idea person and your enthusiasm is likely contagious. Try not to let your determination to succeed interfere with your perception of the relevance of the solution. At this stage, you are not trying to sell the idea. You are trying to make sure the idea is worth pursuing and investing in. You may get feedback that is hard to hear - this is the best kind of feedback. Don’t be discouraged and take your idea back to the drawing board. Go back and redefine the problem and solution if it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. If your instinct is right, there is truly a problem that needs to be solved. Incorporating feedback like this will only make your solution stronger and more compelling when it comes time to start marketing. It is far less expensive to incorporate this feedback now than it will be once you have moved forward to the next steps. Take the time to do this refinement before it hits you in the wallet.
Evaluate if you need to develop a product to move forward with your idea
At this point you should understand the problem well and know what a successful outcome could look like. Does it require technology to solve it? Can the solution be tested on a small scale with minimal tech? If you can use a few readily available tools to cobble together a proof of concept, do that. You will learn a great deal from really digging in and applying your unique view to solve the problem. Even if this is inefficient and highly manual, it may be worthwhile to help identify a critical requirement or step in the solution that was not known before. This will help you define a more realistic and valuable MVP on your first pass. An MVP is the smallest number of features that will create value for your users. You can go to market with a product that meets the need and delivers value without bells and whistles in order to continue to validate and refine your idea.
If you’ve graduated to the point of knowing that you want to pursue a software product, you have many options available to you. Whether you build your idea with existing teams, hire a single developer, or work with a company that builds custom software, you should expect effortless communication and the expertise of building a software product.
It’s time to act
Your passion for exploring that next opportunity with a lot of work and properly solicited and incorporated feedback will lead you down the right path. It can seem daunting to start, but validating your idea and getting feedback can launch you on your way to defining your MVP and evaluating execution options. Often times, the difference between a successful business and just an idea is the power to act. It’s time to start evaluating your options and actualizing your ideas.