The whole thing of ‘validating an idea’ is thrown around so much in the startup and indie world. I nodded my head along for quite a while in agreement, that perhaps I should apply similar concepts to my community building efforts.
However, when I thought about it, I realise that I’ve actually built communities without validating ideas, instead I do it more by validating a vision.
I find so many people get stuck on validating ideas, especially when it comes to communities. They become so focused on the short term thinking of whether ‘the idea’ is working, rather than thinking longer term of whether they are taking steps in the direction of where they believe they want to head.
This is even more important for communities. The things we build with our community have to align with them as much as us, as founders of people who work for the community.
One cannot simply test an idea on a community and expect it to work. You need to do the ground work of building relationships and trust. An idea without strong relationships and trust will likely have minimal impact when compared to one with great bonds.
In addition to this, communities are most likely built on many ideas, or many experiments. It is the overall vision that keeps things going.
Jason Fried on not being able to validate an idea
People want to be certain about things, but really we can’t be certain about anything. You can do as much validation activities as you like, but at the end of the day you have to go and build the thing to see if you can make it happen.
And classically, Jason says it really well. The market will tell you what to build and if you need other people to tell you what to build then you are lost. You need to validate something by believing in it.
Having a vision is key. And no one but you will work towards that and developing the deep knowledge that is required.
📺 Watch the video, it’s really short!
Even if you do validate an idea…
The world is forever changing, companies come and go all too quickly. Focusing on idea feels to narrow minded and closes your mind to opportunities. However, focusing on a vision keeps you open minded to the possibilities you could create.
Should a big world event happen, like, ahem, COVID, having a vision will hopefully pull you through. On the flip side, having a functioning business idea may not be enough.
Become a believer
When it comes to building community, you need to be a believer in what you are creating. It doesn’t mean you need to have the answers. It’s more that you believe there is a need for what you want to build.
People will ignore or laugh at you all along the way. They will tell you that the ideas that you generate won’t work. Of course they’ll say that. They don’t know what you know. You can’t expect them to.
The belief is what will keep you going through the hard times. The belief brings the understanding that this is a journey. It is what will keep you constantly learning. It will make you understand that a landing page will not really move the needle. That the number of email subscribers doesn’t matter too much. That you need to keep chipping away to build something meaningful.
To be a believer, means obsessing over something that no one else will. Your obsession becomes your competitive advantage.
Idea vs Vision
I'm still kind of processing these thoughts in my head, but here are some key differences between ideas and vision, take it with a pinch of salt:
- Validating an idea is fixated on a specific problem to solve
- Validating a vision is focused on deciding whether the bigger picture is something you believe you can contribute to.
- Validating an idea ignores many aspects of the bigger picture, it looks for biases to prove that it will work
- Validating a vision means caring and understanding how everything works together.
- Validating an idea is short term thinking
- Validating a vision is long term thinking
- Validating an idea means seeking approval from other people
- Validating a vision means you are confident about the decisions you make
- Validating an idea means decisions are focused around your specific product.
- Validating a vision means every little thing you do aligns and contributes towards your overall (community) goal.
- Validating an idea means little change in your products
- Validating a vision means your product ideas could change over time
My reflection on Ministry of Testing
When I did Ministry of Testing, my vision was to change the software testing industry. Crazy thinking at the time! I didn’t actually think I would make much of an impact, but that idea was always there in the back of my mind. And that frustration of there just not being enough things out there for testers kept me pushing forwards.
Each week, each month, each year I learned more. I created multiple paths, and crossroads. I kept exploring. Listening and conversing. And always trying new things. Forging new paths and opportunities, to find what worked.
I did stupid and unprofitable things along the way. I tried and discontinued a few ideas. For example, we did a printed newspaper for a couple of years. It was so much fun, but not really a something we could sustain financially.
As time went on, I was that person, or that business, who was making an impact. Not because I had a great product, but because I kept pushing towards my vision.
All the way through I would be asking myself ‘are we creating positive change for the software testing world?’. That was the question. The vision.
Events had been our bread and butter in terms of money. Before we did events I spoke to people about doing them, and they all rejected my ideas. They wouldn’t attend, they wouldn’t pay, is what they told me.
I did it anyways! 🤩 Because of it aligned with my vision. And because of all the things I knew that they didn’t. I believed!
My vision with my (Rosieland) community building efforts
I can apply a similar vision idea to my current Rosieland efforts.
Yes I have this vision of changing and transforming the community building world. Putting that into words feels crazy to say, but it is what keeps me going.
I intentionally took small steps to create habits all along the way. I never set out to do a paid newsletter. Nor a course. Nor a community. I had no specific product ideas, or I had plenty of them, but I didn’t want to focus on launching any of them.
Instead I focused in on confirming with myself whether this was a path I wanted to take. A path that I could stick with longer term.
Rather than declaring a big idea at the beginning, I started with a simple curated newsletter to help me study and make a decision for myself that this was an area that I wanted to develop a vision in. Along the way I’ve learned so much and connected with so many people.
The fact that I’m enjoying it is what is keeping me going. In this instance, this was a huge part of validating my vision.
My previous community was a 10+ year journey. I wanted to be 100% confident that being in the community world for at least that amount of time was the right thing to do.
To validate my community vision I will always be asking myself stuff like:
- Is this something that I really want to do for the next ten years?
- What should I be exploring?
- Am I thinking about the right things?
- What should I do that others are not doing?
- Also, what are the things that people are doing that I don’t like, or disagree with.
- Does it bring joy and excitement?
- Do I have the energy?
- Do I feel there is room for Rosie to grow something?
- Does the community world need me to do something?
- Am I cut out for this?
- Why should people care?
- What is it I really need and care about?
- Am I able to pull people into my rosie ways?
- Am I happy doing a little bit every day to work towards that vision?
Asking myself these questions on a regular basis keeps me real
If there is something bringing me stress or unhappiness, I need to question that and make a decision whether I’m on the right path and maybe consider that my vision needs changing…or ditching.
I know myself better now. And for me I have to be 100% into something to thrive, otherwise I fall into a deep dark hole.
Admittedly with Ministry of Testing, I wasn’t 100% into it, I ignored my instincts for a while, but a few years in I knew that whilst I had a vision, it wasn’t quite aligned for me.
As a founder of that business, as much as I loved the people, it was a really slow and tough process to remove myself from it. I couldn't just quit, well maybe I could've, but it felt wrong. Instead, I got stuck trying to find a way out.
I think about this often to ensure I don’t make that mistake again. Which is why with Rosieland I wanted to to tread slowly, cautiously and with the view of building up my own confidence that I was heading in the right direction of building better communities.