Finding Out What People Really Think

Note: this is a series on making a digital health startup.  The first post is here.

Two weeks ago we discussed the propensity of friends and experts to lie to you about your concept.

This week we’ll explore a method for capturing valuable information through the lies.

I want to make it clear that I don’t think people intend to lie or confuse you. The problem is they’re too well meaning; they don’t want to hurt your feelings, and they doubt their own expertise, so they sort of tell white lies that make it hard for you to know that they’ll never use your product and think it’s rubbish.

But wait! All is not lost; there are ways to uncover someone’s real opinion, even if the words are largely positive and noncommittal.

For example, here are two conversations I’ve actually had (emphasis added):


Me: Ok so that’s my product; what do you think?
Venture capitalist: What an interesting idea! I wonder how this would impact the future of finance if it were rolled out worldwide. Such an intellectually fascinating concept. I love it; can’t wait to hear how it turns out. Let’s plan to talk again when you have some data to show.


Me: Yeah so the way it works is you get a package every month with a bunch of makeup samples in it.
Friend: Oh cool, and how does the…
Friend, not part of conversation, but overheard my description: OHMYGOD I want this. (Pulls out phone) What is their website I’m going on my phone and signing up right now.

Both conversations are positive, and both might sound like good concepts. But A is my old failed startup MatchLend, and B is Birchbox, the startup that created an entire new category of startups.

The way you can tell is by following closely the language. The MatchLend conversation is intellectual and passive. “Wouldn’t it be cool…” The Birchbox conversation is emotional and active. “I want…” If the conversations about your idea are passive, and if they remain in high level academic discourse, you’re not making something people care about. It’s when people make a public display of their desire for your product that you know you’re onto something.

Again, this doesn’t mean you have a bad idea, only that the person you’re speaking with doesn’t think it’s a good one. By no means am I suggesting you give up on your concept when you get MatchLended once; you should go out and talk to ten or 20 more people before you decide it’s a trend. It only takes one good investor, or one good customer, to get you started. And there are millions of people out there.

In fact if you have a really good idea, it’s likely that most people won’t get it anyway. More I want to you decipher the coding in the language, so you can really know what they mean.

But if you talk to the smartest people in your industry niche, and even they say no, then I might suggest you consider moving on, or at least tweaking your idea a little.

Next week we’ll talk about asking good survey questions.


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