What Croydon Tech City taught me about startup idea validation


By - Wednesday 22nd April, 2015

New contributor Zarrin Lilani reports on how a #Croydon #TechCity event helped her learn her way in the startup world


Classes for Croydon.
Photo by Jon Lim, used under Creative Commons licence.

I turned up to the Startup Idea Validation workshop feeling nervous. Was my startup idea only a good idea in my own head? However as soon as I arrived I realised the session was about ways we could test out our ideas as opposed to us pitching our ideas to a panel.

The workshop started with the slightly awkward group task of building the tallest possible free standing structure with the tools left for us on the table. These tools were – a packet of dry pasta, some string, some sellotape and a marshmallow that had to go on top of the structure. We had 18 minutes to complete this task and initially I thought that we would be sitting there bored for the last 10 minutes. However, as the last 5 minutes approached mass panic ensued and our structure ended up flopping, quite literally.

We had gone about building the whole structure without a base and we hadn’t checked if it could stand still without our support until the last two minutes. I already knew that I was rubbish at DT from school, so what else did I learn from this task? Kumy, the leader of the workshop, (and the organiser of Lean Startup Circle) informed us that the marshmallow in fact represented our hidden assumptions. Essentially, all of our startup ideas are assumptions and as enthusiastic as we may be about these ideas we need to validate these through asking questions to potential clients and through seeing our startups as experiments.

Then came the questions; that is, learning about how to ask potential customers good questions and learning to listen as opposed to pitching our ideas. The most important question to ask was, ‘do we solve a problem that the customer has?’ We learnt that we should work towards solving a problem that a customer has as opposed to being blinded by the brilliance of our own ideas. Asking the wrong questions can lead to incorrect data, such as asking someone’s prediction as opposed to their opinion e.g ‘Do they think this product will take off?’ (bad question) vs. ‘What do they actually think of the product?’ Kumy explained to us that he validated his first startup Bluefields (a social network for sports teams and coaches) by renting a space at a sports exhibition and asking people’s opinions on what they would want from a social network like this.

The best way to fail is to fail fast

The faster that we can get these ideas to the market, the faster that we are testing our experiment and getting to the bottom of whether there is an appetite for our big idea. The best way to fail is to fail fast – Kumy introduced us to the idea of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The theory behind this is you start a small version of your startup with a big vision. A great example of an MVP is a startup called Openbuffer, which allows you to schedule social media postings so that you don’t have to carry them out in real time. Openbuffer initially built a homepage for their product but nothing else; they then asked people who landed on that homepage to register their email address to find out more about the product. They then emailed these potential customers and asked if they could Skype them so that they could ask questions about the kind of product they wanted.

This is why failing faster is better – you find out what your customers want faster as opposed to further down the line with depleted resources. The theory behind idea validation is that it brings you closer to the realities of what you need to do to build a successful startup and the lean nature of the process makes it possible to do without investing thousands of pounds.


To attend this Thursday evening’s (23rd April) Croydon Tech City event at Matthews Yard, please register to attend here.

Zarrin Lilani

Zarrin Lilani

Zarrin has lived all her life in Croydon apart from a short stint in Spain. A big fan of the borough, she is interested in any projects which will help rejuvenate the borough. As a Sales and Marketing professional she is particularly interested in Croydon Tech City and hopes big things will come of it.

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  • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

    Zarrin,

    Thanks SO much for this – glad to see you learnt a lot from the workshop. For anyone else interested in Croydon Tech City’s monthly startup classes – you can find dates up until June here: http://croydontechcity.com/community-classes