Business is about validation.

frustrated-at-work

“Too many people are playing business.”

— Noah Kagan

I’ve seen this so much. I’ve been this person on more than one occasion.  Noah Kagan @noahkagan calls them wantrepreneurs. What does that mean? We want the idea of starting a successful business, but never really try to get to the point: making money. Get that idea, and immediately get a customer to give you money. Get a few. And once you reach the point where managing your customers via email, calls, Facebook messages, text, whatever, then it’s time to start to think about getting a domain or building a website.

When I was in Japan I discovered Skora running shoes online and ordered a pair. They’re awesome! I love running and they are the best running shoes I’ve ever worn, you can literally feel the road every time you put your foot down. But I couldn’t get them in Japan. Skora is a small Portland, OR based company that doesn’t have a wide distribution yet. No stores had them, and I couldn’t get them at any local online retailers. So I had to order them from the US and pay something like $50 shipping to get them over to me. Running is popular in Japan and people spend a lot of money on shoes so I had an idea to bring Skora to Japan and set up an online retailer. Cool. What did I do first? I got the domain name and started building the website. Then I spent some time on design and some money to hire translators for my site copy, then server fees, then … I hadn’t even found out if anyone in Japan would want these shoes! I liked them, but would anyone else!? After sinking a bit of money and time kicking at the website, I hadn’t even contacted Skora to get any shoes. I had no product and no customers. The project was dead in the water before it even began. Why? I had no validation.

Noah gives a presentation for Technori that’s long and the video quality isn’t worth spending the 25 min to watch, but one of the key points that I got it validation is key. He talks about Netflix. “How would you validate Netflix? Netflix 1.0 where they were mailing out DVDs.” They bought a bunch of DVDs and asked their friends if they wanted to watch them, mailed them out, and had people send them back when they were done. Did people like the idea? I think the results speak for themselves.

Stop wasting time playing business. Validate. Get a customer to give you money before you do anything else. If the idea is a good one, this should be easy. If it’s not, then either you’re looking in the wrong places or the idea sucks.

Back to Skora Japan: what could I have done better?

  1. I should have asked some of my running buddies for their shoe sizes and bought them some shoes. Better yet, get them to pay for the shoes, and try them out. Give them an “if you don’t like them I’ll buy them for you guarantee or something.”
  2. If the shoes were popular among my friends then I could invest a little to get some shoes to take to a running park to ask random people to try them out. I could have made sales right there.
  3. Have a free Facebook page set up that takes maybe five minutes. “If you like the shoes, send me a message on Facebook.”
  4. Talk to more people at different popular running areas around Tokyo and let them try out the shoes.
  5. When there are too many people to reply to individually, then make the website.

But what happens when no one likes the shoes? The results are basically the same, business fails and you move on to the next idea.

I’m not in Japan anymore and Skora are still great running shoes that as far as I know haven’t reached the land of the rising sun. So if you’re interested, please take this idea and run with it so that next time I’m in Japan I can buy some running shoes.

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