Validate your startup idea by asking 3 simple questions

Last week, I stumbled across a personal post from a founder on his thoughts after first month of his startup. He writes in the post that he hasn’t been satisfied with the traction received so far and wonders whether existing product is the right path to continue on. I had exact same questions when I was starting up Wingify and now that we have seen some traction, I thought I should expand on a comment I made on how to know if your startup idea is the right one.

When doing a startup, it is perfectly okay to wonder whether you are on the right track. It is not a sign of weakness. In fact, being too attached to one’s idea is a sure shot path to failure. Honest introspection into your startup should be done regularly to have a clearer perspective. After all, startup is a lot of effort and hard work. What good it is if you don’t know whether that effort is in the right direction?

Like many entrepreneurs in their initial stages, if you are feeling doubtful about your startup, ask these 3 questions to yourself (and your co-founder):

  • Do you think what you are providing is creating significant value for anyone? Value should be so significant that people should curse you if you take that service away from them. Do you think it could happen?
  • Do you think there is big enough market for the service AND the market is easy to reach (without spending bootloads of money)?
  • Are you enjoying doing this? Do you see yourself doing this for several next years?

If answers to any of the questions is no, you better think hard about your startup before putting any more effort into it.

Providing value


As I wrote earlier, a lot of ideas are cool but they seldom provide value to anyone (and hence seldom make money). “Value” is not some abstract concept I am throwing around. Your product/service is valuable if a lot of people will become sad if it didn’t exist or if you take it away from them. Your idea has no value if nobody cares whether it exists or not. For example, you decide to open a cafeteria chain with iPad menus in college campuses. It is a cool idea, for sure. It may even get you on TechCrunch. But, frankly, would your target market bother if such an idea didn’t exist or if you open up one cafeteria and decide to shut it down? The campus crowd has other alternatives for cafeteria and that is why they won’t cringe when you shut it down. They would not bother with your cafeteria. An iPad menu isn’t a strong enough value to anyone.

But, on the other hand, if you decide to open a cafeteria (with or without iPad menu) in a remote locality where there are no cafeterias at all (and if they haven’t tasted coffee before), you are definitely providing significant value to a well defined market. And people will definitely curse you if you decide to shut it down for no reason.

So, as a startup founder, you must ask whether your product/service is providing real value to anyone. Value can be measured in terms of convenience provided, money saved, entertainment, time saved or other parameters. But litmus test for your idea should be this: if you decide to shut down your product/service for no reason, will people notice? Will people become sad/mad, or will they simply move on without much of a fuss? If your answer is no, you better move on.

Realistically reaching a big target market


Just providing value is not enough for a startup. You may have the most valuable idea of all time (like introducing coffee to a remote locality), but if your target market is small, hard to reach or non-existent, then you should think twice about that idea of yours. To give a simple example, if your idea is to open a fast food joint that also serves chilled Cola in middle of Sahara desert, it is indeed quite valuable. You will be guaranteed a customer, every time someone happens to be crossing the desert. But the point is, how many customers would you be able to serve? How big could such business get?

Another example is of a market that is big but incredibly hard to reach. For example, an English teaching course for low-income, less-educated people in countries like India, China, Russia, etc is a brilliant idea and I am sure such a market exists and is potentially huge. But reaching out to such a market is a marketing nightmare. You must be prepared to spend lot of money on TV, radio, newspaper campaigns and establish local centres across hundreds of cities. As a bootstrapped (or even VC-funded) startup, are you prepared and capable of taking such a challenge? If answer is no, you need to move on.

Are you enjoying this?


Startup is a big commitment in life, and choice of your startup idea will determine how maximum portion of your immediate life will be spent. It is true that generally people work on startup ideas they generally like, but there are market-based approaches to find ideas that can be profitable (but not necessarily in line with what you like). You must realize that next few years will be spent on the same startup idea, so you must enjoy doing it. If your startup is about health, you must enjoy being in that field. If it is about marketing, you must like marketing. If it is about bingo cards, you must be passionate about bingo cards. I’m not saying you have to be crazily in love with your industry/domain, but you must at least enjoy being part of the industry. Otherwise, if you do a startup just for money, you will quickly bore and burnout yourself. So, even if your startup can make you a billionaire but you don’t like it (or can’t imagine making yourself like it ever), don’t do it.


Your startup idea is worthwhile if it is: a) extremely valuable to target customers (and not merely cool); b) has a big enough market that you can realistically reach out to; and c) something you can immerse in for many, many years to come.

Otherwise, simply pivot or redo the idea. It is never too soon or too late to change paths in life.


  1. Hi Paras,

    Great post and really helpful advice. I really am grateful to you for writing this post in answer to my blog post. I have always found problem with advice which is not very much actionable, but you always write what is clearly doable. I think, this is the trait I am learning from you by reading your posts that you are so clear in your mind and is so much focused on actionable things.

    This is certainly going to be very useful to me at least, in the long term. I will keep pinging you from now on, whenever I need advice.


  2. I really love this advise.

    When I was at university we had a lot of top VCs and successful entrepreneurs from the Boston ecosystem present and the number one thing I learned is to focus on your value proposition. For some reason, the basic principle that you must provide value is lost among many who would seek to simply trick users into buying something. These people are more focused on the how of business than the why.

    Best -Zebediah

  3. I like your 3 points very much. Several friends of mind already built their own start-up, and I sometimes wonder whether to do the same thing or not.

    The first point hits the nail in the head. If you cannot produce significant values, then don’t build a start-up.

    I should keep this as a note 🙂

  4. I do not agree with the second item, “Realistically reaching a big target market.”

    That is not a requirement for a startup.

    What is required is a market with pockets deep enough to afford the product, at a fair price, that is large enough to support your company. To only pursue a startup if the market is ‘big’, is foolish. Besides, a true cutting edge product will likely have to make it’s own market. Think: GoPro Hero.

    Ansel Taft

    1. @Ansel: I agree with you. It completely depends on what sort of business are you trying to build. If you are happy with one cafeteria, you can open wherever you find a healthy customer base (even in middle of a desert). However, if your aim is to build a big franchise chain, you need to have access to a ‘big’ market.

  5. This is not just good advice for start-ups, it also applies in a B2B corporate environment. Intrapreneurs and product developers/managers also need to focus on REAL VALUE. Asking how customers will feel when you take away the solution is excellent advice.

  6. Whenever you want to do something or you want to start something we must ask ourselves those questions. It is the best way to verify ourselves. The questions are valid for many things in life

  7. Paras, it is truly essential to validate one’s start up idea.

    But, as you said that if a startup is creating significant value at least for a niche segment,there is not much to bother about “Big Enough Market”. Over the time, the product will evolve….from lower end, establish foothold and eventually eat away at the customer base of incumbents, and then move up the value chain.(Courtesy Clay Christensen’s theory of disruption, in the seminal book, The Innovator’s Dilemma)

  8. I love the simplicity and common-sense nature of this post. When brainstorming on a new startup, it’s easy to get pulled down rabbit holes where someone is beckoning “flavor of the month this way!”

    This was just the exercise I needed today to keep going on my startup!

  9. I can very much relate to this at the moment because i was working on a b2b startup idea and a few days ago i realised it was not what i wanted to work on, fortunately i had only invested money in a domain, landing page and a few other minor things, had put lots of thinking time into it but i wasn’t excited about the particular idea.

    Just a few days ago i got an idea for a b2c startup towards the end of the day, i instantly got a great feeling, i mean excited like a kid, i laughed to myself and im more interested in my new idea.

    I cant guarantee that i wont change my mind again but so far i feel that i would like to work on b2c much more than b2b, i know both have their challanges but my new idea feels like the right one to test, i will still do customer development on my new idea.

    As i feel that solving a problem is less important for a b2c startup, i will test to see if my idea will truely offer value.

    I can see a big enough market and also think that i could reach the target market more easily than i would if i was targetting businesses.

    None of this i know for sure yet, but my intuition tells me to follow my new idea and see where it goes.

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