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Idea Extraction Gone Terribly Wrong

February 6, 2013

Dane Maxwell talks a lot about idea extraction. Find the pain. Find the problem. Don't have an idea in mind, ask a market what they need.

The basic concept is this: you find a market of people with money (think businesses) and you find out what their problems and pains are. What do they hate doing, what takes up most of their time, what do they wish they could eliminate altogether? When you find a problem that's painful enough, the market will offer up the solution and throw their money at you to build it.

So they say.

So here's what happened. I started hanging around at LawnSite and trolling through their forums because they are an ideal market for Mantis. I want to hang out where my customers hang out and LawnSite seemed like a perfect start to cut my newbie teeth on.

Things Go Wrong

After reading through a bunch of threads, I kept noticing the same thing coming up over and over: creating a website is a pain. Well, not for me it isn't. While not exactly related to Mantis, I wanted to gauge how much pain there was in this problem. I started a thread with the title "How Did You Build Your Website?"

I got a lot of good responses ranging from hand-coding to Squarespace (which is what I'm using here, btw). After several responses, I made my move:

If there was a system that was tailored to building lawn care sites, would you think there would be a market for that? what would you have to have on a lawn-care-website-builder? After that, it didn't go so well.

You weren't actually looking for an assist, but doing market research for a web builder? I'm glad that you asked a common question, that's readily searchable in the archives, and that a couple of us didn't go overboard with our usual thousand word jags of help.


I'm so glad I don't run my business like the majority of sales people and "info gatherers"... So shady. I wish I had a nickel for everyone who has wasted my time with crafty sales calls and inquiries. They have no respect for people who really work hard and run businesses. Get to the point, be honest, quit the BS.... oh, and that's how I built my website.

Dang, that bombed pretty hard. Those are some strong words. Especially the part about "no respect for people who really work hard and run businesses." A business is a business because it has customers. In that case, he's right! I'm not running a business, not until I have a customer. Until that time I'm building a business.

But why the vitriol? Why the anger?

How To Do Better

Be Forthright

Dane always starts his phone calls with something like "I'm Dane, I build software, what is the most painful part of your business?" These guys felt like I did a bait-and-switch on them. And for good reason. I started by asking "how did you build your website" and then asked "would you pay me for something". Up until my second question, they thought they were helping out a fellow Lawn Guy, only to find out that I'm some (presumably) "shady" marketer or info-product guy. I can see why they would be upset.

New Plan: Start by saying what I'm up to. You may get more responses if you don't say it, but then people are going to be upset later down the road. Better to be clear up front than upset a lot of people.

Provide Value

I hung out the forums for a bit, but didn't post too much before I started going after my own interests. There are tons of people with no technical expertise on that forum, I'm sure that I could've popped in and answered a few questions before I sought answers to my own.

New Plan: Hang in the forums more, answer some questions, build some rapport and history on my username.

Focus on the Pain

I jumped to a solution pretty quickly. You hand coded your website? I'll build you a LawnCare CMS! Step 2: $$$$! I should've probed a little more, asked more questions, and really found the pain before I offered my BRILLIANT! solution.

New Plan: Slow play it. Ask more questions. Probe.

Better Luck Next Time

So my little experiment didn't go so well. I wanted to try some idea extraction, I did, and it failed tremendously. That's ok, I know better now. I didn't expect to get it right the first time and certainly did not.

I'll try it again at some point in the future and let you know how it goes.

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Thanks for reading! My name is Aaron and I'm a Developer Educator at PlanetScale — a serverless MySQL database company.

My main project focus is Hammerstone, where we build components for your Laravel and Rails applications. My business partner and I do a podcast where we talk about building a software company.

I do another podcast about web frameworks called Framework Friends.

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