Validating ideas, part 1: does anyone want it?

You have an idea. You’ve been tossing it around in your mind for the past few weeks. Your brain wanders back to it while you’re showering and it hijacks your train of thought while you’re in a meeting at work.

How do you explore whether it’s worthwhile? Whether it’s worth jumping ship to go forth?

If you’ve done some research, you may have stumbled across frameworks that look like these. 

Everyone picks a different shape or arrangement of shapes, but they’re pretty much the same thing.

  • Does anyone want it?
  • Can it make money?
  • Can it be done?

But, this is actually a framework of frameworks of frameworks. 

In this three-part series, we’ll break apart each one in detail, starting with wrestling the question, “does anyone want it?” And, to help keep this conversation focused on application, we’ll work through an idea together. 

Our idea will be: a podcast app. Podcasts are becoming more popular and there are various podcast apps out there, but the listening experience isn’t awesome just yet. Even more, money is flooding into the space with no apparent end in sight. So, we want to dive in, but we have to do some validation first.

Does anyone want it?

Customer desire is the starting place for all this madness because there’s no commercial point in building something that people don’t - or won’t - want. You can absolutely be an innovator and an inventor, but that won’t necessarily make you money. While we’ll get to the economics of the idea in the second post, desire is the first barrier to overcome.

Break apart “does anyone want it?”

Focus on two components of the question: “anyone” and “it.” To move forward confidently, get crystal clear on how to define these.

What is “it”?

“It” is what you will sell customers and what they will be motivated to buy. It’s the position your product or solution will sit in amongst everything else in the market. It’s what your customer will hire to do the job they need done. It’s what you will do versus what you’ll explicitly not do.

I particularly enjoy how Ryan Singer at Basecamp writes about what they want to emphasize vs. de-emphasize in their product.

Credit:  Ryan Singer

Credit: Ryan Singer

By defining boundaries and areas of emphasis, you form your product’s outline and its positioning. It not only gives you a position to experiment with and gradually validate or invalidate, but it also gives you a place from which to say “no” to feature requests, internal debates, executive overreach, or reactionary scrambling.

To get a sense of where you should position your product, it’s (obviously) helpful to do some competitive research. We’ll leave that topic for another day, but assuming you’ve done that, plus some customer research (will also leave that topic for another day), you might have some axes upon which to slide your product.

Let’s look at our podcast app example. Based on some customer and competitor research, we could come up with the following axes. These axes can now help us focus and validate.


“Does anyone want it?”: Anyone ≠ anyone

While you could theoretically build and market your product to anyone early on, that’d be foolish because:

  • It’s harder to measure product/market fit (if you’re aiming for everyone it’s harder to tell if you’re making progress),
  • It’s harder to know who to listen to for feedback (you’re guaranteed to get diverse feedback, anyway, so why make it harder on yourself?),
  • It’s harder to market to everyone (the same messaging, positioning, and medium will not resonate with or reach everyone), and
  • It’s harder to know what adjacent customer segments to grow into (if your customers aren’t segmented you don’t know what characteristics they share with other, untapped customer segments). 

The gist of how to work through this component is: go as narrow as possible. Or, as this article puts it: “you want to keep going until there is no meaningful distinction to be made.” Attributes to segment a market by can be geographical, behavioral, demographic, socioeconomic, etc. 

As you segment, it’s important to keep track of each slice’s market size so you can keep in mind the magnitude of desirability, which can act as an input to the “can it make money” question.

Let’s work through this for the podcast app. We know we want to target power podcast listeners, so let’s get a better idea of what that really means.

First, since this is a mobile app we’re focused on, let’s be ridiculous and start with all US-based smartphone owners. That comes out to about 204,370,410 people. 1 

Second, we want to focus only on people who listen to podcasts on a regular, say monthly, basis. One source says this is 26% of the total US population as of 2018 (but let’s discount to the US smartphone-owning population, so 53,136,306 people). That’s pretty close to another source of 57,000,000 people, so let’s roll with it.

Third, based on the “it” we’ve whittled down to, we want to get a little more aggressive and focus on people who will really use our product, put it through the wringer, and who we want to build for. They’re the power users -- the daily podcast listeners subscribing to many podcasts. The same source says it’s 17% of the US population, but we’re going to use the same smartphone discount as above, so it comes out to 34,742,969 people.

Fourth, maybe because we want to gain traction as quickly as possible and we may want to launch iOS-first, we want to target customers who are using the default Apple Podcast app. Data from 2017 shows the iOS Podcast app had a 51.1% market share, but we find out Apple released an inferior app update that is seemingly universally despised. Let’s discount that market share by a third, conservatively, to 34%. That comes out to 11,812,609 people. 2

What do we end up with? A target customer segment made up of 11,812,609 people who:

  • Live in the US
  • Own a smartphone
  • Are older than 15 years old
  • Listen to podcasts at least weekly, if not daily
  • Use the iOS Podcast app
  • Don’t use a third-party podcast app (yet :))

We could continue segmenting further by refining demographics like age or ethnicity, or segmenting on other attributes like what other services or podcasts they subscribe to. However, for the purpose of an app for a power podcast listener, the main behavioral trait we’re looking for is the power user attribute. Thus, there are no more meaningful distinctions to be made.

So, does anyone want it?

Once you’ve tailored the question, you’re ready to pose it. For us and our podcast app example, our question is:

Do US-based, iPhone-owning, iOS-Podcast-app-using, daily podcast listeners over 15 years old want a podcast app that prioritizes helping them listen to -- and discuss -- the content they’re already subscribed to, as quickly as possible, with highly relevant ads?

I’ll add yet another topic to the “let’s cover this another day” list, but there are various ways of getting to an answer to this question. 

At this point, though, you’re in a spot where you can ask a concrete question to the right people and begin really assessing -- and measuring -- whether what you’re cooking up is worth serving. 

1. According to this, there are 326,625,791 Americans, of which 81.26% are older than 15 years old (to be conservative and not count kids). Then, using this data, 77% of Americans own a smartphone.

2. Note the implicit assumption here that users who remain with the despised iOS Podcast app are at least weekly podcast listeners. We can test this later.