I have been toying with an idea I have had for about 5 years now. The idea is rather simple: Airbnb meets yard advertising. The idea is to allow homeowners to rent their front yards to businesses who want to place a sign for a fee.
The idea came about after seeing businesses who put their sign up while working on your house, building a pool or painting in exchange for a discount on the overall cost of the job.
I thought, “What if businesses could cheaply advertise their business and homeowners could make a little money?” – I convinced myself that it was a good idea, everyone I have told thinks it is a great idea as well.
However, I soon realised that I had entered a confirmation bias bubble. Unknowingly I had been so excited about this idea, when I would tell people I realised they were probably too nice to say it was a bad idea because they could see how great I thought it was. That and the fact that the people I was telling had no idea of the niche I was thinking within.
Even after five years, people were still saying it is great and, “why doesn’t this service already exist?” – I have been re-evaluating my ideas lately now I am a little older and more experienced if my idea is actually good or I just think it is good.
This is one of the traps that a lot of first-time and even recurring entrepreneurs fall into it: asking the wrong people. If you’re trying to validate an idea, don’t ask your friends or family, they most likely won’t be as honest as you would hope.
Let’s face it: your mother probably thinks you are great and everything you do is great. Pretty much anyone in your immediate family will think anything you do is great (unless it is developing a destructive meth addiction).
Even if you consider one or more of your friends to be “brutally honest” there is probably a strong possibility they are not familiar with the industry you are trying to “disrupt” nor your idea itself to provide any insightful honest feedback.
Realising I was in this artificially created confirmation bias bubble, I aimed to break out and do what anyone starting a business should do: ask your target market.
Know your audience
It occurred me to that maybe my idea didn’t exist because it wasn’t that good, it is far too hard to implement or businesses just didn’t see it as a necessary thing. I aimed to find out.
So I started emailing businesses. I tried to keep it varied, so I emailed; plumbers, electricians, mechanics and even florists. My initial blast was to about 15 businesses using the same worded email.
I carefully worded this email to sound like I was a student researching an idea. Devious I know, but like most rational human beings, if we feel as though we are being sold something we kind of switch off. I wasn’t selling anything (yet) I just wanted to know if businesses would see the value in the idea.
Not surprisingly, I got some responses from businesses. Some said they already put signs in yards when they’re working on a job and have branded vehicles, others said yes they probably would.
After kind of validating businesses might be interested, I realised the idea has two customers; the businesses and the yard owners. So I then had to find people who were not family and friends to see if they would see value in the idea.
It turns out I got mostly no responses from businesses and people. Concerns were raised about signs being paid for and taken down, with no way of knowing if they were always visible for the paid duration of time. Other concerns ranged from council restrictions, housing development bylaws (many housing estates forbid signs) and a few other things I never even considered.
So, before you MVP…
Some people actually believe that you should create an MVP (minimum viable product) and then shop it around. While for some ideas this could work, for the most part, why bother wasting time on something you don’t even know people will want or use?
In my situation, I almost created an MVP and used that as the basis for getting feedback. Then I realised I could just sit down, come up with a simple explanation for my idea and ask people directly.
I just wish there was a cheap platform out there where I can solicit feedback on my ideas like this without needing to pretend to be a student. The ability to target specific audiences and get honest feedback, that would be great and from what I could find, nothing like that exists.
Isn’t this the point of kickstarter and friends?
Kickstarter is for raising funds, not getting feedback out of ideas. I guess startup incubators are the way to go 🙂
So why not build an MVP where people can give their feedback on startup ideas?
I don’t usually reply to random surveys, but your blog is very helpful (Aurelia FTW!), so here is some free, honest feedback on your idea…
In some markets, your idea might be profitable. You would need thin margins to avoid being cut out as a middleman. But, as you’ve already been told, I would definitely watch out for various laws and regulations.
In sunny & hot California, I once lived in a condo where the HOA (Home Owners Association) would not even allow an in-window air conditioner (because some people consider it an “eyesore”), and I am certain that most forms of advertising are forbidden as well (although they do allow “for sale” and “for rent”). If the HOA could have their way, they would also have forbid installing a satellite dish and running an in-home child care business, but on those things they are overruled by the FCC and State of California respectively (which explicitly allow those things).
I’m happy that I now have a house with no HOA ruling over me, but I am sure that there are still city laws and regulations to consider. In some cases, the laws are meant to keep things fair. For example, I’m sure that you can not just put up a giant billboard that blocks the view for the neighbors. In other cases, though, the laws are “stuffy” rules to keep neighborhoods appealing and keep property values high. To some people, this is also about fairness — everyone doing their part to keep the neighborhood appealing, but I don’t really agree with that (it is more fair to let people be themselves).
Personally, I like originality and creativity and freedom and I probably wouldn’t mind seeing a neighbor enthusiastically using your service with a dozen signs on their yard (especially if they are tasteful and/or humorous like Superbowl ads). Even if I didn’t like the signs, I value freedom more than my own tastes, so I think the signs should be allowed. However, many people dislike advertising and the laws in many neighborhoods may reflect that.