Testing and Validating Your Ideas

Time to Get Out of the Office

  1. Getting an expert opinion: So far your analyses have come from self-assessments or data and that’s a great start, but neither tells the whole story. So we recommend getting feedback from experts in the field
  2. What to show them: Show them:
    1. The initial primary offerings you are considering
    2. Your market analysis (the charts with spending projections)
    3. Your credibility assessment
    4. Your value prop analysis
  3. Who to reach out to: We recommend getting feedback from:
    1. Your spouse or significant other
    2. Your local SBDC, PTAC, and SCORE counselors
    3. 2-5 people who:
      1. Run small government contracting companies
      2. Have been successful
      3. Do something similar to you (e.g. you both are focussed on IT services, or you’re both in the construction industry)
      4. Are blunt/care enough to tell you if they think your plan has issues

Running a feedback session

  • Set the context:
    • Tell them about the analyses you’ve run
    • That you want their reaction to your analyses
    • Their thoughts on your credibility/ value prop
  • Focus on the government: Ask questions in a way where you are not putting them on the spot:
    • So don’t ask questions like “Do you think I’m credible”
    • Instead ask: “Do you think that government customers and partners will find me credible”
    • Or “Do my past performances demonstrate credibility”
  • No yes-no question: We recommend asking open ended questions
    • So instead of “Do you think that government customers will find me credible”
    • Ask “What would make me more credible to government customers?”
  • Don’t be afraid of silence: Once you ask a question give the other person time to think about their answer in silence (don’t keep talking).
  • Lower the pressure: Don’t start by telling the other person that all you’ve ever wanted to do was start a business, this will make them feel pressured to be overly positive. Instead tell them that you are exploring a few different professional options, and that you’d like their honest feedback on this one option.
  • Interview length: Longer is better but you don’t want to be greedy:
    • If you know the person well ask them to lunch, that will get you an hour
    • If you know the person a little ask them to coffee, that will get you half an hour
    • If you are cold emailing someone ask for 15 minutes and if you are asking good questions they will typically give you 30
  • Do not pitch yourself: If the other person feels like you are pitching or trying to sell to them they will shut down. This is not the time to get on a team or make a sale, this is about feedback

Questions to ask

  • I’m thinking of providing [name of your service or product] can you tell me about the government market?
  • My analysis suggests that my market is [show them the market analysis], does anything jump out at you?
  • How do companies differentiate themselves in this market?
  • What are the most effective differentiators?
  • How can I be more credible in the government’s eyes?
  • Do you have ideas about how to improve my value proposition?
  • I have a lot more to do, but do you see any red flags I should be on the look out for?

Some good videos on running a feedback session

What to do with the feedback

  • What to do with the input: If you get some critical feedback from one person don’t worry, if you get the same critical feedback from multiple people you may need to go back to the drawing board on one or more elements of your business plan. And that’s good. After you’ve completed your interviews take a hard look at the feedback you’ve gotten and:
    • Call it quits: You may hear things that make you reconsider starting a business, and if you decide that entrepreneurship is not for you that is a SUCCESSFUL outcome. You came in, you kicked the tires on starting a business, and decided it wasn’t for you, there’s nothing wrong with that.
    • Press pause on entrepreneurship: You may hear things that make you reconsider starting a business NOW. Timing is important and maybe you want to pause till your children are out of the house, or till you’ve built more relationships. If you fall into this category but are serious about starting a business consider doing the business project planning class. It will give you a list of things to do to set yourself up for success when you do decide to start your company
    • Tweak your plan, but continue on: If the people you talk to know the market and are honest with you you will almost certainly hear things that cause you to tweak your plan. This is a good thing, make the changes, improve your plan, and then keep going to the Business Planning class
    • No tweaks needed, they agreed with everything: If the people you talked to say only good things it is a big red flag. Odds are the people you talked to weren’t being honest, or you weren’t listening to them. If this happens we highly recommend reviewing the resources on running a feedback session and talking to three more people

What do to next

Review the strengths and weaknesses of each of the products or services you explored, choose the best one and continue on to the Business Planning phase to take your good idea and turn it into a business

Video Transcript(s):

At this point you should have complete business hypotheses for a couple of the options you identified at the beginning of this course and here’s the good news and the bad news. 

  • The bad news is that each element of your hypothesis has to be true or your business is doomed
  • The good news is that testing your hypothesis is fairly easy, will help you build relationships with partners, and will increase your chances of success

And the best way we know of to test a business hypothesis is to share it with people who’re in your market. And this does a couple of things

  • It helps you identify your assumptions and logical leaps. Lots of things sound good in our heads but once we have to say them out loud  to another person we realize that maybe they don’t make as much sense as we thought
  • Second, it helps bring us back to reality. you're here because you want to start a business and when I was in this situation I lied to myself about how strong my business plan was, and how manageable the risks were. Explaining your plan to someone else will bring in a healthy dose of realism.
  • Third, the federal market is incredibly complicated with lots of written and unwritten rules. The analyses you did  are a strong start but numbers never tell the whole story and showing your ideas to an experienced contractor will help surface things you hadn’t thought of.
  • And finally asking people for feedback is an amazing way to build relationships with them.

So at this point we highly recommend you set up thirty minute feedback sessions with:

  • Your spouse or significant other
  • Two people that have worked closely with you in the past
  • You local SBDC, SCORE, and PTAC
  • And at least three people who are in management positions at successful small government contracting companies, preferably companies in your industry. 

We have more information about running feedback sessions in the body of this exercise, but the big thing here is to show up with an open mind and ready to listen. You don’t “Win” at feedback by proving that you're right or that you’ve already thought of the things they bring up. You win at feedback by getting a more complete and honest understanding of your company and the challenges you’ll face. 

So take the feedback with a constructive spirit and incorporate it as appropriate.  If you’re exploring multiple initial primary offerings, select the best one, and when you feel good about each element of your business hypothesis, go on to the next course where we’ll create a work plan to get to your first contract win.