How do you know if people want what you want to build?

Validate, prove, justify, confirm, support… I can distinctly remember my experience at StartUp Weekend Pittsburgh a few months back being summed up with these five words. Over the course of the 3 day all you can design, code, and build event I was constantly bombarded with mentors who preached the importance of validating the need for your product or service.

My team envisioned an application for kids to turn their school notes into catchy songs. The thought being teenage kids can memorize lyrics because of a catchy beat – why can’t they memorize all 50 state capitals the same way? We did not place in the top three for the contest, and I think I know why.

We fell prey to a common problem in the start-up world. We never got any outside support for our idea. All of us (most of us) thought the application was cool, practical, and could be the start of something disruptive and revolutionary, yet we did a poor job asking potential users for their feedback. Feedback is the most important ingredient for success, even at the very beginning stages of a start-up.

Our mentors pleaded with us to get some source of outside verification that there was a need, or at least a want for a product similar to ours. We did, kind of. We created a survey that vaguely asked questions related to our application. 50+ results later and we felt we had a strong argument for why our product needed to exist.

We faced a few issues with this mindset. First, we had tunnel vision – we specifically looked for survey results that were positive and used those to further our judgement. Second, we surveyed family and friends – these people intrinsically want to support you and their results were undoubtedly skewed.

This problem was not independent to my team, every start-up at StartUp Weekend Pittsburgh used a survey to justify their product or service. You think I am kidding, take a look at any of the teams twitter feed on the Saturday of the event…

This is a problem, and problem that is even more magnified two months after the event. All of these “start-ups” are dead, they are not businesses, they are webpages that were thrown together in a weekend.

Building something that is useful, needed, and appreciated is one of the many difficult steps in starting a company. The lean start-up methodology makes it seem rather simple – build something, measure how people perceive and use it, learn from that data. Unfortunately this is much more difficult in practice then it is in theory.

The first step before building, measuring, and learning is to validate. The mentors present at Start-Up Weekend where right – getting validation of your idea by potential customers or users is key. Conducting a survey of family and friends is not an applicable way to achieve this.

In a world where we have Product Hunt, Hacker News, and Reddit, I ask, why do we not have a “Do you like this idea”. Imagine a community where people discover, share, and converse over ideas. Not products, not news, not gifs of cats, but ideas.

For the past week I have worked on creating this community. Would You Want is the start of what will serve as a necessary tool in creating a start-up. Users up-vote ideas, the best go to the top, and entrepreneurs can get a quick, informal justification for their idea.

I will post semi-frequent updates on the development of the site, and a more in depth post as the public launch nears. .

About the author

I'm Zach Shefska, welcome to my personal website. I'm currently working on CarEdge. I like to travel, write, and make pottery.