The club was dark, dimly lit and hot as hell.
Packed together like sardines, I couldn’t scratch my nose if I tried. Anyone who’s ever been to a nightclub in New York City will agree. Being the “chill” type, it sure as hell wasn’t my idea to go here.
While I’d much rather prefer a corner in a Barnes & Noble someplace, my fashion-forward friends had other plans.
One of them was so fashion-forward that he decided to wear a set of grillz to the club. Talk about confidence. I thought he was crazy. The other clubgoers? Not so much. Matter of fact, he was scoring praise all night. People just wouldn’t stop approaching him.
“Where did you get those?” “I need a set of those!” and “Damn, I wish I could afford those!” For the entire night, it’s all I heard. I was shocked. Here’s this peculiar fashion accessory I never saw on anybody except rappers being praised by all these people. Who would’ve thought?
Fast forward a year: I’ve done more than six figures in sales and scored features everywhere from Forbes and Business Insider, to Hypebeast and Complex by selling something as simple as a gold bottom grill or rose gold grill. Oh, and I horrified my mother in the process. “You’re selling gold grills?” she’d say.
Which leads to my first point.
Don’t Build a Nightclub in a Graveyard
Yes, the foundation of any successful business starts with an idea. But it can’t just be any idea. It has to be the right idea. Now, what’s the right idea? But contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with what you’re passionate about, what you like or what your friends and family like. It has to do with the market.
For you to be successful, your idea has to meet the needs of a marketplace: an audience of potential customers. It may not make your mom happy at first. It may not even be something you’re particularly fond of. But that’s not the point. The point is to make other people happy with it. Satisfy a need they have. It’s about them not about you.
And that wasn’t just idle chit chat, praise or ego stroking my friend was getting. It was a sign of an unmet need in the marketplace. These are what I call “code words” and are the foundation your brand will stand on.
Words and phrases like:
- I like
- I hate
- I love
- I wish
- Too expensive
- Too cheap
- Can’t find
These phrases are all indicators of a potential unmet need or desire for an alternative of some kind which may not already exist. Your plan going forward is fulfilling that need or desire. Create that alternative.
In my case, people couldn’t seem to find affordable grills. The only options available were either cheap, auction site grills or high-end Johnny Dang or Paul Wall-style grills. Nothing in between. My former brand filled that gap in the marketplace, and we became the affordable alternative.
Listen for Code Words
The best way to find the right idea is by listening for code words like the ones I mentioned above. These takes seconds. Once you gather enough feedback on a potential idea, it’s important you continue vetting it further. Again, people don’t spend money because they like you or they think you’re attractive (unless you’re me). They do it because you help with one (or several) of the following:
- Save time or money?
- Build up or stroke ego?
- Improve happiness?
- Provide safety?
- Increase comfort?
- Making life easier?
- Increase efficiency?
In the case of my grillz, they accomplished 1, 2 and 6 very well. They were affordable, helped my customers cross off any coolness concerns and were way easier to setup versus traditional grillz. Traditional grillz involved shipping molds back and forth and a whole host of other steps. Mine came with molds and instructions on how customers could do it themselves. Plus, if they had any issues, we’d ship them a new set or new molds no problem. Talk about making life easy.
Global Not Local
Here’s the kicker though for your idea to have six or seven-figure potential, it can’t just be local. It has to be global. Here’s how to take your idea a step further. Nothing complicated. The key here is to distance yourself as far from speculation as possible. No guessing games, dice rolls or big risks. That’s for rookies. Don’t worry though. These quick idea tests take just a few minutes.
- Listen for code words online. Whether it’s browsing through your Twitter feed for complaints or praise, or reading through forums and Reddit threads, see what crowds of people are saying.
- Browse Amazon reviews. Specifically, starting digging through three-star reviews. Five-star reviews are all praise and one-star reviews are all hate. Usually, three-star reviews offer insight into what worked, what didn’t and why. Take heed of how you could make something that meets those points.
- Browse Reddit. It’s not called the “front page of the Internet” for nothing. Their communities (called subreddits) are nothing short of gold mines. People speak rather open and honestly about their feelings on very specific things. Dig deep into a particular set of subreddits that are relevant to your idea. What questions are the most popular? What responses are the most popular? Why? What links are the most shared? Who writes them? Document all of this.
- Use Google’s Keyword Volume Tool. This one requires you to create a Gmail email address and a basic AdWords account but don’t worry, it’s nothing crazy. Type in a few keywords that best describe your idea and look for high search volume and competition. The second one might surprise you but heed this: competition is a good thing. It means people are actively searching for and spending money on the idea. Don’t fear it. Embrace it. Google’s “Trend” tool can be useful at this stage as well.
- Use Facebook messaging. This one might make you a bit uncomfortable, but that’s the whole point. What you’re going to want to do is reach out to potential customers letting them know about your idea or offering. A brief, personalized message to friends that outlines why they’d be interested + a link to your free PayPal account. Kind words of support are great, but try paying bills with them. Verizon doesn’t give a darn how many people love your idea.
All of the above are simple yet effective ways to test your idea and validate your idea. I can tell you from personal experience, that it's much better to spend the time making sure you're meeting a market need before investing so you don't end up with a garage full of products nobody wants.