Don’t Send Your Idea Out Without a Raincoat

I just discovered a SubReddit (I’m not a millennial but I birthed one so I know that term) for App Ideas that really illustrated the problem I’m trying to solve. Most posts have the same basic text:

  • I have an idea
  • A user puts in something
  • The screen displays something
  • What do you guys think?

This pattern is also repeated all over the world in individual conversations. “Here’s my idea? Two-sentence bland description. What do you think?” Translation: “Here’s my heart. Please feel free to stomp on it. I promise to keep a polite smile on my face and thank you for your input.”

My objection to this approach is that you are most likely to get discouraging comments and then you might prematurely conclude that it’s a bad idea. Comments at this stage are largely irrelevant because the reader has very little to go on and probably doesn’t even understand your idea. It’s like applying for a job without bothering to put together a decent resume. If you had a friend who showed up for an interview in a dirty T-Shirt and then said “They didn’t like me,” you’d immediately see that the rejection wasn’t of the person. But we often send our ideas out into the world without taking the time to set them up for success. Here are some ways you can give your idea the presentation it deserves:

A picture is worth a thousand words

  • If it’s like something else you’ve seen, take a screen capture. Use Skitch to write on top with words that make it different.
  • Show a picture of the people it would help. Use Google image search or any of the free image sites. It doesn’t matter if it has a watermark at this point.
  • Make a simple “back of a napkin” sketch.
  • Make a messy comic-like storyboard. Stick figure woman gets a flat tire on deserted road. Uses app to call for help. App keeps her on camera with a representative until Tow truck arrives.

Tell a story

  • Use names to help your audience visualize the scenario instead of “a user.”
  • Use specific terms to describe what they feel — frustrated, rejected, relieved, grateful, etc — to describe the pain and the solution to the pain.
  • Most likely, you’ll be interested in a problem that someone you know experienced. Don’t be afraid to use that.

Let it be personal to you

  • Don’t try to be for everyone.
  • Don’t be afraid to show your personal investment.
  • Niches will also temper critical voices because they will realize they don’t know about the problem you are trying to solve.

Ask a specific question

Rather than say, “What do you think?” ask questions that qualify your audience or give you a needed piece of data. Or, if you’re really just excited and want to share the fun, don’t ask for an opinion. Just say “I’m really having fun with this idea!”

Choose your audience deliberately

For the longest time, I’d ask two specific people for opinions and leave feeling deflated. Then it occurred to me that they had become successful by working for large companies and my entrepreneurial ideas were like a foreign language to them. Doh!


Also, there are a couple categories of remarks that suck

“XYZ already does that”

My least favorite response is “that already exists.” It sits there like a dead fish just spoiling the conversation. Therefore, what? Don’t bother? That’s what I used to think “that already exists” meant. But actually, that’s not the end of the conversation. It’s a great time to pull out the improv technique: “Yes. And…”

  • “Yes. And that confirms that it’s a significant problem.”
  • “Yes. And it’s not ideal for my audience who has different needs.”
  • “Yes. And I’ll be able to learn some great things from how they’ve done it.”
  • “Yes. The technology is there but the design is weak so it doesn’t rule out my idea.”
  • “Maybe. I’d have to take a closer look at it to see if it really does what I’m talking about. I’ll check it out!”
  • Also, remember that if you’ve only said a couple sentences about your idea, how accurate can they be in concluding it already exists?

“Doesn’t seem like a problem to me”

That’s another dead fish comment but it doesn’t have to be. Again, first take into account how much your audience knows about your idea. If they don’t know much about your idea they really don’t know much about the problem either. Is that person part of your target demographic? Most likely the answer is “no” because your demographic has this problem. (See Mom. My philosophy degree did come in handy!)  Later, in your user research, if a well-informed member of your target audience says “It’s not a problem for me,” you’ll want to follow up on that but it’s OK to disregard comments from people who are irrelevant to your audience.

I hope all of this helps you keep your App Idea moving forward!