We all have our lightbulb moments. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of an entrepreneur, hasn’t there been a time you’ve said ‘Hey, someone should invent that!’? Or maybe, over a few drinks in the corner of some bar, you’ve muttered something along the lines of ‘That’d be a great business idea!’
Most people beyond their student years just let these moments pass us by. Amongst folks in full-time employment, only the precious few will actually try to turn those carelessly-flung words into deeds.
If you’re looking for an excuse to stick to the day job rather than try to bring your own business idea into being, it’s never going to be difficult to find. You can’t spend your kids’ college money on a startup gamble. You’ve got a mortgage to pay. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll never get back into a job as good as the one you’ve got. Your friends (all thoroughly grown-up and settled in comfortable employment) will think you’ve gone loony and accuse you of having a mid-life crisis.
But when you spend enough time talking to founders, who generally don’t buy into phrases like ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I can’t’, you realise that at least a couple of those excuses simply don’t wash anymore. Because in the case of most startup ideas, there are now simple digital processes to find out whether it’s loony or not. All without quitting your job to spend your days doing market research. Testing consumer interest in 2017 is something you can do in an evening or three, perhaps with a weekend and a couple of dozen Dollars thrown in.
Speaking to a startup like Pioneers Ventures portfolio company CodeBerry really wakes you up to this fact. Its quartet of Hungarian founders are great believers in a slick and efficient idea testing process. They tried out no less than 30 different ideas – spending just a few days on each – before they hit a rich vein of interest for one of them. That’s how CodeBerry, a startup which teaches coding to non-English speakers, was born.
With the right tools in place, it never took them long to figure out whether their idea was one worth pursuing. They didn’t need to actually start a business to test out what the interest might be. You just pretend to start the business. To create that impression, a basic landing page and a low-cost advertising campaign will suffice. All you need then is a call to a measurable action – clicks, a traffic indicator or perhaps a sign-up page. Worry about delivery once you’ve got customers, is the philosophy many founders share.
“One Monday we decided we want to set up CodeBerry,” recalls CodeBerry co-founder Békéssy László István. “On Tuesday we put up the landing pages. By Thursday we had the payment option running and on Friday morning somebody actually paid us for a coding course! And we thought, whoa, this is happening! We had nothing prepared at all. So we invited this first customer to our Slack channel and gave them some assignments – just some links to some online games. That gained us an hour or three to make the next documents or assignments…and so it went!”
Granted, there were four guys working on CodeBerry that week – full-time. And yes, they’re computer geeks who know how to code their own landing pages properly. So their timeline might not be quite so realistic for the average office employee. Nonetheless, you can cover essentially the same process without being a tech wizard.
“You have great options for making landing pages, with a lot of boxed solutions out there,” says István. “You have to do the copywriting effort, but it’s actually not that big. And you can test it with really small money (cost per click). We test with Google Adwords marketing.
“We have some framework for experimenting. We’re very proud of this methodology, and the clear answers it gives you. Without a clear testing process for an idea that might be bad but which you might love, you’ll go further with the idea than you should before you ditch it.
“We tried our ideas for around a few days each. We would take the idea, check it with the market. Usually it came out this it’s not a good idea – or that we couldn’t make it work without lots of money. But with CodeBerry it was different…”
Their tried and trusted testing methodology didn’t stop with being just a way of validating a workable startup idea. It continues to serve as the perfect way for them to feel out which language markets are keen on their product. The perfect growth tool for a product like theirs, all they have to do is put up a CodeBerry landing page in, say, Latvian, apply the usual measurement parameters, and see what the interest is.
And it’s worked. Having founded in 2016 with next to no idea of what markets might be interested in learning to code in their own languages, CodeBerry is already offering courses in tongues as diverse as Portuguese, Polish, Bahasa Indonesia and Vietnamese.
“In Indonesia we got customers for something like 40 cents each. We got people to actually fill a form to give their email address and sign up. We had to tell them we weren’t quite ready yet! But we knew there was a market for us and that was the main thing.”
While the way CodeBerry execute all this is relatively advanced, don’t let that put you off. It’s essentially the same thing you can do with a basic website builder and, say, Facebook and MailChimp. Perhaps a little reading and research on keywords, too, and a spot of Google Analytics. Nothing too scary.
For the likes of CodeBerry as well as for you and me, the big step is to go through the process once. Once you’ve got your method, your accounts and your template, you’re not far away from Plug ’n Play idea testing. From that point on, if you’re willing to give up just a couple of evenings a month, there’s no reason you couldn’t validate an idea every 30 days. It’ll keep the creative juices ticking, if nothing else.
Another startup founder in our community who’s pretty hot on the idea of the quick validation is Luke Peng, the Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur behind AnyaUp.com, a platform linking businesses to curated freelance creatives. Pioneers Discover scouted Luke to join the Vienna Start-up Package this year, and AnyaUp.com is the fourth in a list of startups that have met with varying degrees of success.
Unafraid to fail and a firm believer that there’s little to lose in at least testing out a new idea, he’s written a step-by-step methodology for doing so that just about anybody could master.There’s also a neat sum-up video about the process here.
And yes, it’s something you could get started on during your next lunch break – so there’s no more excuse for excuses!
And because we like to practice what we preach here at Pioneers (even though our lunch breaks are often short…), we’ve taken a slightly wacky business idea and actually tested it out. Read all about it in part two here.