The 4 biggest mistakes made with new project ideas

Posted on Posted in Product Development

Mistake 1: “If you build it, they will come”

I love the glamour of this quote, a variation of the one from the film Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner.  He is told…If you build a baseball pitch in your corn field, the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the Chicago Red Sox will turn up to play baseball there.

Sounds ridiculous?  IT IS ridiculous. The same applies to your project.

I MUST burst your bubble, your genius idea is WORTHLESS, no one will pay for it.

But luckily it’s not unique to your idea, all ideas [on their own] are worthless.

Here’s why:

Have you ever failed to build something due to technical complexity?

Most likely the answer is No. Developers can beat the odds and overcome any technical hurdle to get any product built.

Do all amazing products make money? No.

Therefore the building part of it is obviously not the problem, the market is the problem.

What you must do is find the product that the market needs. Most people try this the other way round, they build the product and then try to find the market that needs it – sadly only to discover that there is no market, or this market is extremely small.

Rob walling is the author of Start Small, Stay Small – a fantastic book for the budding software developer who wants to launch a product. One of the best quotes in the book is:-

“Even a bad product, with bad marketing, but in a great market will still sell”

Rob’s ideas are really strong, if you are a developer yourself and have plans for selling your own product, it is a vital book to read. It goes into a lot of detail about adwords and SEO that might be slightly dated now but everything else is totally robust. Rob is a genius when it comes to building successful SAAS products.

Rob places order of importance for your product as follows:-

  • Market
  • Marketing
  • Design
  • Product

That’s right, getting the market right first trumps everything else. I can’t state this importance any higher. Your product itself comes in at a dismal 4th place of importance.

Even the best product in the world with fantastic design, clever marketing in a terrible market will generate zero sales.

To get anywhere with your market, you need to share you idea.

Mistake 2: “It’s big! We’re keeping it a secret”

Do NOT keep your idea secret, this will slow you down and reduce your chances or ever launching your product.

Firstly, if your idea is in a hundred million dollar market, and really is a genius idea worth stealung, the big guys will just steal it from you right after you’ve proved it will sell in that market – leaving you high and dry.

Secondly, keeping it secret will only slow you down, because it prevents you getting the feedback you NEED. Feedback is the only way to succeed, in any market.

Feedback is NOT your close friends and family telling you it’s great, it is real people parting with their hard earned cash in exchange for your product or service.

The “secret idea” the probably the biggest mistake that people keep making, this is discussed at length in The Lean Startup by Eric Rees.

Whenever Eric encounters someone who won’t share their idea, he poses a challenge which I’ll paraphrase here

Identify your biggest competitor, phone them up to tell them your idea! Try to get them to steal your idea!  You won’t be able to, they are too busy with their own plans for greatness.

What about sharing your idea with the developers? They’ll surely steal it, won’t they?  The are just developers, waiting to pounce on this game changer of an idea.

Let me let you into a secret. They aren’t interested in stealing your idea, not because they are nice people who wouldn’t steal it? Some definitely aren’t.  Because unlike mere mortals, they aren’t in their day job waiting for an idea, they have a list as long as their arm of their own fantastic ideas.

Here is one of my ideas:-

“nujob – a hiring plaform that puts the power back into the hands of the candidate. Making it simple for the skilled professional to find their next role, without needing to use agencies.”

There is a market, and customers paid, want to steal the idea? Or are you still going to persue your idea instead?  I already know the answer.

Mistake 3: Not starting to build an audience at the earliest possible moment

It is really important to find your customers first 

Start build your audience as soon as you can, before you write a single line of code, or even a screen mockup.

Have customers knocking your door down to get you to build the product.

You MUST spend the least amount of time and energy you can in order test the market.

A few years ago the advice would have been to build the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and get it infront of potential customers, use their feedback to evolve the product. This has proved successful for many companies – but only the ones you have heard about, not the millions of others that built an MVP that no one used or wanted.

The startup community have now discovered that you don’t even need to build the MVP. The MVP is not where you start.

You start by selling the idea, and if people pay real cash, that’s when you build the MVP. Believe it or not, people will pay for something that doesn’t exist (yet)

Isn’t this immoral?  Well, are you trying to con them?  If so, then yes. Except you’re not trying to con them are you?  You are trying to find out what they really want. This is NOT what you think they want or even what they SAY they want. It probably isn’t even what they think they want. It is what they will pay for, the thing that truly creates value for them.

Here is a quick experiment – make up a rubbish idea and ask a really good friend to start paying for the service. I guarantee that even a close friend won’t pay, just because it is you.

I first heard this method of getting paying customers before building it from Dane Maxwell. Dane’s concept is simple. Build a business with no money, no expertise and no idea.

Dane now runs an accellerator programme called The Foundation, where he and a guy called Andy teach their methods.

The Foundation method is reasonably simple:-

  • Pick people or businesses in a particular market. Ideally they make good money.
  • Talk to them about their daily routine, listen to their pains (people love to talk about their grievances)
  • Relay their own pains back to them until it resonates with them
  • Ask them if they could imagine a software product that would solve their problems
  • Repeat this idea extraction on 10 more people
  • Design a software product (on paper) that solves that problem
  • Get a commitment to pay for the product
  • Take payment from all of the customers
  • Build it and deliver it to all the customers

I have dramatically simplified the process, each stage has it’s own nuances and it’s own mindset. But the concept is fantastic.

Before this I was conviced by building an MVP. I knew building fully featured products was time consuming and risky and that the MVP was the solution, but I never considered the idea of building nothing and taking that to market

Dane’s advice is so simple. Find what the one person in a market wants, extract that idea, marry that up with the needs of the many, get them to pay you and use the money to build it (fast).

Dane’s way doesn’t even involve building a landing page. He says you don’t need it to make your first sales.

Rob Walling’s advice is to always build your mailing lists, many entreprenuers agree that their mailing list is their biggest asset. Start doing this as soon as you can because it takes a long time, don’t wait until you’ve launched your product (via whatever method you choose)

Building a landing page with email capture is such a low lost option both in time and money. I say there is no harm in doing it anyway.

I’ve made a few landing pages. With a bit of practice you can easily get one up and running in around 15 minutes. Even if you are a developer, use a tool like unbounce, it’s so much easier – here is a guide.

Why email lists?

It’s a low cost option for someone to give you their email address, you aren’t asking them for money or long term commitment. They know they can unsubscribe if they don’t like your content.

Email arrives in a form that allows people to read at their own leisure, but still appears amongst things they actually care about. Like a message from a friend. This makes for a very powerful tool when sharing ideas, information and product launches.

Rob describes this better on his email marketing tool Drip. Drip is fantastic and I use it as my tool of choice for mailing lists. Drip and Unbounce also work well together, and here is an article about setting them up to work together.


Mistake 4: Not being honest about the project

Is your project a business or is it a hobby?

Be honest, both answers are fine. Is this product just for you or is it to generate regular revenue for your business. Are you serious about this becoming as big and successful as you want it to be. If so, you must take the right actions and refuse to waste money on speculation. Good luck.








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