Validating Your Ideas on Strangers

One of my favorite ways to truly validate an idea is at a bar… on strangers.

I “discovered” this a few years ago when I was still new to NYC, and since then have used this amazing technique half a dozen times.

It was a slow Saturday, but we had a soft launch happening, and the developer was running a tad behind. I met with the project owner at a dive bar around 50th and 3rd. We were sitting there, complaining about not having launched this site 4 days before and drinking.

About an hour in, a designer broke in to our conversation, apologizing profusely, to ask for our opinions on a couple variations on some rebranding project he was presenting on Monday.

He showed us probably close to 10 different designs, of which a few were stinkers (and he knew it), but one was amazing and another was a decent second choice.

Seeing how ballsy this guy was to interrupt a couple of people having a private, albeit very loud, conversation and ask us for our free and completely unbiased advice opened my eyes.

Even as recently as just earlier this week, I was at a bar, with a buddy, spit-balling fun projects to do during downtime, when a simple Twilio app I have wanted to do came back to me.

I’ve called it “Talking with Strangers,” but essentially it is just a website, you sign up with your Facebook account, and put in your phone number. Cell phone, land line, pay phone, who cares. You then are able to call into the “Talking with Strangers” hotline, which will ring out to a random group of members to the site. The first one to pick up is connected with you. If you are enjoying the conversation, you hit star, if you want to be reconnected with someone new, hit pound/hash. If both people star theĀ other, your Facebook profiles are shared to each-other.

I popped over to the table behind me, with my phone as a prop, and my best used-car-salesman enthusiasm, and started pitching.

Their reaction was notably disturbed! I apologized, saying I had a pitch coming up, and would really like their opinions.

Well, they were much more negative toward my idea than I thought they would be!

“It’s just going to be guys acting creepy toward women. Hey baby, what are you wearing?” – The female perspective.

“Yeah, there needs to be some sort of screening process.” – The previously excited boyfriend who only now realized the downside.

  1. I took their advice to heart. Sat back down with my buddy, and we brainstormed how to overcome the issues they had.
  2. House rules you agree to on sign up (don’t be a creep, dont be an asshole, treat everyone with respect unless they have been a creep/asshole).
  3. Minimum Facebook account age.
  4. When you hit pound it asks why. press 1 for creep, 2 for asshole, etc; 0 or # no reason.
  5. If you have been reported x% of calls, your Facebook and phone number are banned on the service.

Five minutes later or so, I went to a completely different table, asked this other group of strangers. I pitched the new and improved idea. A markedly better response.

This is the same technique that countless large companies do every day. Focus grouping. The only real difference is it is FREE. Oh, and you get a faster response, iterate, response.

Get out to your local bar and start pitching your ideas! Just don’t get so schlammered(TM) you forget your feedback… or your product.

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