How Not To Determine Whether Or Not An Idea is Worth Doing

“I’m not sure about this idea anymore.” Why? I asked. “Because I talked to two potential customers and they don’t seem interested”, she answered. This was a conversation I had with a friend who wants to find out whether or not an idea she has, a need she has, is worth pursuing.

There are two mistakes here. One, you only talked with two people. Second, you told them about your idea.

You don’t validate an idea by telling potential customers about your idea and asking for their opinion. Yes, you read that right. Instead, you have a problem conversation with them. What is a problem conversation?

It’s a conversation where you specifically ask them about their problems, pains, frustrations, and challenges; you don’t tell them about your idea. With that said, here are some good questions to ask potential customers when validating your product/business idea:

  1. Can you tell me about the last time you experienced [the problem you are trying to solve]? This gets them to tell a story rather than just stating opinions.
  2. What was the biggest pain point or frustration in that situation? This identifies their true motivations and priorities.
  3. Walk me through exactly how you dealt with or tried to solve that problem. This reveals their current behaviors and processes.
  4. What solutions/products have you tried using before for this problem? Allows you to learn about competitors and alternatives.
  5. What did you like or dislike about those existing solutions? Uncovers what’s missing that your product could provide.
  6. If you could wave a magic wand, what would the perfect solution look like? Lets them dream big without dismissing their needs.
  7. How much time/money does this problem cost you currently? Indicates if they have a real incentive to pay for a solution.
  8. What would convince you to purchase and use a new product for this? Tests their commitment beyond just stated interest.

The key is asking open-ended questions that get the person talking about their actual experiences, behaviors, and constraints – not just opinions about your idea. Listen for contradictions between what they say and do.

How many potential customers should you interview?

There is no definitive number of potential customer interviews that is recommended, but here are some general guidelines on how many to conduct and how to evaluate whether an idea is worth pursuing:

  • Start with at least 10-15 interviews in your target customer segment
  • If the feedback is consistently positive, conduct 5-10 more interviews
  • If the feedback is mixed or negative, conduct 20+ interviews to validate the findings

The point is to interview enough people to spot patterns and separate real insights from one-off opinions.

How do I know whether or not to pursue an idea?

The point of interviewing potential customers is to understand their pain points and evaluate whether or not to pursue an idea. Here are some guidelines to determine whether or not your idea is worth pursuing:

  • Look for evidence that people experience and struggle with the problem you aim to solve frequently
  • Check that the frustrations/pain points customers describe align with your proposed solution
  • See if people are currently paying for or attempting to solve the problem themselves already
  • Gauge if they convey real enthusiasm and commitment to purchasing your product if it existed
  • Look for contradictions between what people say and how they behave

How do I know an idea is not worth pursuing?

Finally, you should look out for the following signs that your idea is not worth pursuing when interviewing potential customers:

  • Potential customers seem “lukewarm” and aren’t actively trying to solve the problem
  • There are already good existing solutions that customers are happy with
  • No one is willing to clearly state how much they would pay for your solution
  • There is a lack of enthusiasm and you have to “convince” people of the benefits

The goal is to find a sizable segment of passionate potential customers who have a real problem you can solve better than current alternatives. If the signs point to weak demand, it may be better to pivot or come up with a new idea to test.

Bottom line: It’s common to validate ideas by telling people about them. That might work when you tell your friends and family members. But not with potential customers. Instead, you have to take the time to understand their pains, needs, frustrations, and challenges first. And, you don’t just talk to a few people, you need to talk to many people.