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How Do You Know if a Start-up Idea is Worth Pursuing?

How Do You Know if a Start-up Idea is Worth Pursuing?

A lot of us have ideas brewing that sound interesting but we aren’t sure if they are worth pursuing as a start-up. Some of those could be ambitious while others could be too small. So how do you decide when an idea is worth pursuing? In this post, we share more about what made us embark on making UX research more accessible for companies. 

Start with a problem that you have personally experienced 

It is always easier to get excited about solving a problem that you have personally faced. You would have a nuanced understanding of why the problem exists and can appreciate the impact of not solving it. As a software engineer at Stripe, Ethan saw that a lot of development rework to rebuild onboarding flows could have been avoided by catching design limitations with UX research. While building GOMO, I wanted to get some customer feedback but at the time it wasn’t part of the process, and I saw firsthand the challenge with finding testers, taking notes and figuring out which feedback to prioritize. Hence, we were both motivated to do something to make UX testing easy for companies.

Are there macro trends that support that this is a big problem worth solving?

So we established that doing UX research is time consuming and it has its benefits, but we weren’t sure if this was a niche practice for some companies, or that it would be a big part of the product development process. We looked at industry trends, and realized the big push to agile development in many companies was accelerating, and UX research would be central to it and likely to grow. The other trend we saw from talking to a lot of our friends was many companies were starting to hire UX researchers, or getting designers to do research on the side, more so in the last two years. Moreover, with COVID the push for digitalization was accelerating and we concluded design would be a big part of it, and design research would grow in the next five years. 

Competition isn’t a bad thing but it is important to identify the underserved need 

A great way to find out whether a problem is worth solving is to look at the existing products in the market. Competition in itself isn’t a bad thing, it is proof that the market exists. But it is important to look at the competitive landscape and figure out the opportunity that you as a start-up can own. 

We looked at and signed up for a lot of tools for usability research and found that they were each solving a part of the problem. For example, UXArmy, UserTesting, UserZoom were great for recruiting participants (if you could afford them), Lookback was good for conducting moderated interviews, Maze for unmoderated interviews and Dovetail was great for synthesis. All these tools had their strengths, but it also led us to conclude that to do comprehensive research you need to use 3-4 tools, which would be painful for most people. Also, finding quality participants in Asia was pretty hard, and these would be some areas we can tackle once we launch our platform.

Talk to as many people as you can and see if there is a pattern to the problems they face

Starting with a problem that you have personally faced, looking at the macro trends of the problem space and learning from competition are great ways to get closer to figuring out whether an idea is worth pursuing, but nothing beats talking to customers. Our first blog post two weeks ago detailed our learnings from talking to customers, but at an early stage it is super important to talk to as many domain experts as you can. We spoke to 100 people, including UX researchers, designers, design leads, product managers and engineers. It helps to understand the problem from the perspective of different stakeholders, and also their different priorities. For product managers, timeline to insight could be super important, while for researchers saving effort spent on research ops could be important. Also, it definitely helps to speak to people in companies of different sizes as their approach to getting customer feedback or UX research can differ significantly and brings in a rich perspective.

Start broad-based and then zoom into specific aspects of the problem 

Even though we interviewed close to 100 people, we broke it down into 30-30-40. We started extremely broad asking people about their challenges with the design process and what tools were emerging. Then we narrowed the problem space to UX research and then to moderated research so that we could get an in-depth understanding of the concrete challenges. 

We also found it really useful to follow the advice from The Mom Test:

  • Talk about the customer’s life instead of your idea,
  • Ask for specifics from their day-to-day experiences instead of opinions/generalizations
  • Don’t pitch your idea (or do it at the end of the conversation) 
  • Ask questions that might invalidate your hypothesis (to really determine how painful the problem is)
  • Be informal, it’s a conversation, not an interrogation
  • Start with one conversation with many types of customers, but evolve towards many conversations with one type of customer as you narrow in on the core initial problem

Ultimately, embarking on a start-up is time consuming and requires a ton of resilience. You have to spend a lot of time talking to customers, building products, then talking to customers again. This is always easier when you’re working on a problem that you’re truly passionate about solving.

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