Academics · Customer Feedback

What are the best ways to collect consumer feedback about a new idea?

Rob Phillips iOS & web engineer, product designer, startup enthusiast/advisor

August 22nd, 2013

In your experience, what are the best ways to collect consumer feedback about a new idea that you're considering? How do you balance telling the world your idea versus waiting until you have wireframes or an MVP to show more details?

My thought process right now:
  • "Just had idea" stage - Asking around 50 close friends and family members for feedback about whether they'd use this product. Emphasize to them that negative feedback is just as important as positive feedback. More private about the idea, but very willing to stop a stranger in a store and ask them about the idea as well.
  • "Wireframe" stage - Asking a more random set of people across our target demographic. More open about the idea, willing to share it with lots of people to get feedback about the UX/UI design. Emphasis on getting the idea right so we don't get the software wrong.
  • "MVP" or "Polishing" stage - Inviting users to start using the alpha version of the product. Very open about the idea, willing to show it to the world.
  • "Polished" stage - Open beta to the general public. Very open about the idea, willing to show it to the world.
Thanks for your thoughts!

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

August 22nd, 2013

I think probably 50% of this group is where you are +/- a few months. I agree with Blake that talking about problems is super-important... read anything on lean customer development and I think you'll find good advice on how to balance sharing and listening in interviews.

To your specific question, here's my feeling: nobody is going to steal your idea. Anyone who would conceivably do that already has 10 "better" ideas they're working on... and nobody is going to think about the problem domain and solution set the way you will. The more you share, the more you learn.

Jason Silver Entrepreneur & Co-Founder

August 22nd, 2013

On your first point, my opinion is to not worry so much about someone stealing your idea. Idea's are a dime a dozen, it's the ability (and desire) to execute that will set you apart. In just the early idea phase I like to get as much feedback as possible. It's at risk of getting "stolen" but as per Blake's point above, by the time you finish getting your feedback you won't even be working on the same idea you started with. Focus on identifying the problem that needs solving first...

In terms of who you are getting feedback from, a word of caution. People (especially friends and family) will have a tendency to tell you what they think you want to hear. Telling someone that negative feedback is helpful for you rarely results in them being ok with the thought of potentially hurting your feelings. If they aren't entrepreneurs, they may not recognize the value of "bad news". I find sometimes it can help to bring the concept up as if it is an idea that you've heard about or as if it were a friend's idea. I know it sounds a bit silly, but I've found people are much more honest and willing to tell you what they really think when they don't have to worry about how their opinion might make you feel.

Good luck!!

Ezra Goldman

August 22nd, 2013

Yes, I'd agree with Blake on that. You'll have to start with getting a deep understanding of the problem you are solving. But once you feel you understand the problem, you'll have to go back to people and ask if your solution solves their problem. Bear in mind that you probably won't solve *everyone's* problem, so pick your customers rather than trying to serve everyone's needs to start. Stay laser focused on solving one problem really well at the outset. But make sure you really understand that problem, never start with the solution and look for a problem that it solves.

Clynton Caines SharePoint Developer at Discover Technologies

August 22nd, 2013

Keep in mind that as you go through the stages, the competitive landscape will change. Sometimes what used to be painful is now acute (ex: startups/services shuttered), or maybe it subsided (ex: new startups/services solved the problem - at least enough). As a result, expect that your target audience/market might need to change...

Carolyn Branco Head of Marketing at Snupps

August 22nd, 2013

Customer idea phase: Don't focus on friends- focus on the customers and problem. I'm from the school of lean startup approach. Before you do anything you should go out and do customer discovery. You often find that you waste a lot of time building the idea you have and then finding out no one wants your solution. Have a vision.. A hypothesis what problem you're solving and go out listening to your customers. Friends and family will not do this. they won't say "I won't buy it" or give you real feedback. Go out on the street and find your customers. Outline what your main hypothesis is: X have this problem... Test: talk to 40 of x about their problems Result: find out that its not actually the problem and instead the real pinpoint is related Y Wondering what I mean - do 2-3 weekend workshops of lean startup machine, Feel free to connect with me directly and I can talk about it. Steve blanks works are particularly informative in this area as are brant coopers. Excuse typos, sent from my iPhone ----------------------- Carolyn Branco +44 7838 866 858

Juston Brommel Growth Strategist & Advisor to CEOs

August 22nd, 2013

IMHO - Talk more. It takes a village to raise a startup. The way collective consciousness works (ala Carl Jung) is that our planet works on a system of collective agreement. If we agree Russia is the enemy, we have a cold war; if we believe they are an ali, the iron curtain comes down. Talk often. Get the consumer feedback. Spread your enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm of others will fuel the fire to bring your idea to life. Holding things close to the chest is old-school, and an outdated fear mentality. Ash Maurya has some great material on managing risk iteratively in a lean startup: Enjoy, Juston

Alan Peters VP Product and Technology at BusinessBlocks

August 22nd, 2013

I am extremely cavalier about sharing the idea. It's hard enough to get your own team to execute on your idea. Each time you share your idea you get feedback and practice telling the story. And if you don't have a means of building barriers to competition (domain expertise, key relationships, intellectual property) -- I think it's a flag against the quality of the idea. My two cents anyway.

Blake Garrett Founder and CEO at Aceable

August 22nd, 2013

I've found that talking to people about your ideas isn't nearly as important as talking to people about the problem you are solving. Talk to 50 people about the pain and I can (almost) guarantee that your idea will be different - and better in the end. Just my two cents based on countless numbers of failed and successful ideas.


August 25th, 2013

First: entrepreneurs are too often convinced in the unparalleled genius of their ideas. Nobody is going to steal it. That would require dropping everything they're doing and committing to a long-term project with very little to go on. I suppose if you ever do get your idea "stolen" it's because it's too easy to execute (in which case you've come up with a commodity--go back and rethink it) or it's way too far outside what's realistic unless you're a huge company with loads of resources. The only exception I could see is intellectual property--some ideas are worth patenting if you think that you can get licensing fees down the line.

Second: Ideas aren't worth much. Customer feedback will make you change your idea and probably pivot your business model dozens of times, so share often and as much as possible. Plus, you'll get little to no feedback very, very slowly making people sign NDAs. By doing this, you're only hurting yourself.

Third: Carolyn Branco's answer is spot on, so re-read that a couple times. As she points out, start with discovering a need or problem from actual customers (not your friends). When you know the problem, then and only then should you prototype, which is the ultimate feedback tool. There are different kinds of prototypes (sketches, mockups, or working products) that you can use to assess the desirability of your product to customers. For tech products like yours, don't overdo it with UX/UI because you need a prototype that's easier to change as you get feedback. After you establish desirability with a certain market segment, get to work on the business model.

In summary: stay lean, get feedback from customers, prototype fast, don't skip ahead in the process and don't worry about someone stealing your idea.

Hampton Catlin Technical Inventor and Product Visionary– Multi-Industry– CTO or CEO

June 7th, 2020

It's not exactly the same, but I really like Google Surveys... it's not super cheap– at least $700 for one run of getting consumer feedback, but I love being able to target exactly who my customer base might be and get information from them.

Honestly, while I love colleagues, friends, family– I don't trust them to give blunt feedback. That's not a personal thing, but it's hard to get actionable advice from people who have more on the line with you than just discussing this business idea.