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Testing the concept: how we decide on the next killer app

Mon Aug 16 2010

With so many ideas (like InStock), how do we test the viability of new business opportunities and  see if they stick before we invest the time in developing them? We have a couple of tricks up our sleeves to share with you that saves us both time and money and keeps us focussed on success.

Firstly we make use of two excellent online tools. Google Adwords and an awesome service called unbounce.com which, although designed for A/B testing, makes an excellent platform for soft testing our new business ideas. The main premise for the service is that you can setup a slick designed landing page in about 30 minutes and then use A/B testing to fine tune variations, instantly seeing the results. Then we apply the following 4 simple steps.

1. The Idea

We are always coming up with ideas, in fact we currently have an ideas board with about 20-30 undeveloped ideas awaiting this very process. So, the very first thing we do, is sit on the idea. When we first come up with an idea we are all passionate about it but as time passes sometimes we realise we were caught up in a moment of enthusiasm and actually the idea won’t cut it. Then at random intervals Colin, Simon and I go through the list and prioritise based on market factors and collectively what we are most passionate and excited about. Simple, and effective. There is no point developing something unless all three of us are passionate and believe in the idea and our experience helps us identify what is worth pursuing at this stage.

2. The one-sentence-sell

Once we have selected an idea, we try to come up with the one-sentence-sell for the product. The one-sentence-sell is a concept I picked up from Ryan Carson when I attended his startup seminar at Carsonified a couple of years ago. The idea is that you come up with a short sentence that both summarises and sells you business idea in one. Going through this process gets you thinking about your Unique Selling Points and provides you with all the material you will need to test the idea.

3. Soft testing the idea

Our main testing approach is to use Google Adwords, this allows us to not only test our one sentence sell which can then be refined into the product’s tag line, but also allows us to refine target keywords. Unbounce.com comes in really handy as it not only helps us create a compelling landing page in minutes that can be used to point the Adword Ads at. Unbounce.com also allows us to test variations of the landing page from a business model perspective as well as a design perspective. For example, although we are big advocates of the Getting Real approach of stripping a product down to the bare minimum, Unbounce.com allows us to A/B test different feature ideas, domain names and even pricing. It’s excellent statistics provide you with a break down of visitors, page views and conversions per variation. The key to getting good results out of A/B testing is to only test one variations at a time, but the process really allows us to hone in on not only how best to sell the app or what features to include but also based on the conversion rate gives us a bigger picture on whether to take the idea forward and build it.

4. Finally the added benefits

The great thing with taking this approach is that you can go ahead and build ideas confident in knowing that you already have a number of users from your converted leads wanting to use your service, you have an early online presence for the idea that helps you build traction and pagerank and you can also make use of it to test out ideas that arise during the development process.

The process is simple and cheap. You are in complete control of you Adword budget, though I advise investing a larger amount for a short period than running a long term campaign at a low rate like £1 ($1.60ish) a day. You can stop and start your ad as needed so focus on short and snappy tests. Unbounce.com offers a free plan for up to one domain being tested and has a range of good value premium plans from $25 a month.

We are currently testing http://www.instockapp.com, please feel free to check it out.

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