You’re going to loop back and forth between prototyping and testing, so what happens when it feels like you’re not getting any traction? This will probably happen. Don’t panic. When you’re stuck in a perpetual loop, it’s usually because you’re not getting clear feedback. This isn’t your potential customers’ fault. You’re probably not asking the right questions during testing. You might need to dig a little deeper in your research to understand what’s truly going on if the feedback you’re getting sends you back to the drawing board over and over again.
Another thing that can cause this perpetual loop is when you fall in love with your idea and fall out of love with the problem. You risk falling in love with the solution when you don’t understand the problem well enough. You might have an idea for a really awesome app, but every time you go out and talk to people about the app, no one is interested because you’re not solving the right problem. Yet you keep searching for people who “get it” instead of “getting it” yourself. In that case, you’re a hammer in search of a nail. You’ve got a thing that nobody wants because you’re trying to solve a problem nobody has, at least not the people you’ve talked to. You need to loop back to the beginning and make yourself understand the problems people have.
Not refining the market well enough will also keep you stuck in a loop. Back to our real estate example, maybe you’re chasing big-city brokers when it’s actually small- town brokers who have the problem. But you didn’t discover that fact earlier because you didn’t do the right research, or enough of it. Or maybe the problem isn’t staying in touch with existing clients; the problem is find- ing new clients. In that case, you had the wrong problem.
As I said before, a lot of startup people call this product/ market fit. I like to flip it around and call it market/product fit because I want you to focus on the market first. When people focus on the product first, they tend to fall in love with the solution instead of the problem.
A Better Mousetrap
If I wanted to build a better mousetrap, I’d talk to a bunch of people who have a problem with mice, and I’d do experiments to see what kind of trap would work for them. You wouldn’t come up with some contraption with no validation and try to sell it to them. The concept of creating a product first and then trying to sell it is from the seller-driven economy of yesteryear. As you now know, in a buyer-driven economy, building products people love starts with asking what people want.
As scary as it is, if you find yourself unable to escape a perpetual loop, go back to the very beginning. Do your research again, make a new prototype, and get back in the market.
There’s no hard and fast rule for the right number of Loops you’ll do before it’s time to go back to step 1. This is a messy process. It’s more alchemy than science. You might have enough confidence in just three Loops to know your potential solution isn’t working. You might be twenty Loops in and gaining confidence, then realize it isn’t happening, and head back to step 1 to regroup. It all depends on how well you understand the problem and how well your potential solution addresses it.