How to validate ideas and get honest feedback

Dec 12, 2011

Table of contents:

  1. Lingering doubts
  2. Max Haot’s revelation
  3. Finding honest feedback
  4. Getting feedback from Hacker News
  5. Taking action
  6. Steps to validate your ideas and get honest feedback

As you may have seen, I decided to re-brand Cultivatus to become Culttt. Making this decision wasn’t easy, making a big change in your product or your brand is not a thing to take lightly as you can alienate or potentially destroy all your good work. Promoting your product is difficult if you feel like an aspect is letting everything down. It’s incredibly hard to evangelise something if you feel like something could be made better. Here is how my realisation came about, how I gathered honest feedback and what you can do if you feel like something is not quite right with your project.

Lingering doubts

I picked the name Cultivatus quite a while ago. At first, I wanted a website where I could blog about my thoughts, ideas and the things I was interested in. The name is derived from Cultivate and was meant to symbolise creating something from raw materials (yes I know that sounds lame). Cultivatus eventually evolved into my first Yellow Flag project, and I hope it becomes an active and regular technology and development news and article websites.

Whilst the project has been growing nicely for a while, I began having doubts about the name. I think it’s best to be honest with yourself if you think something is not working out. Here are the things I didn’t like about the name.

  • Cultivatus sounds like it should be to do with farming, or growing plants
  • It’s kind of hard to remember
  • I don’t like names with more than 3 syllables
  • When I would talk to people about my website, they would often find it hard to remember the name, or hesistate as they said the name as if the pronunciation was ambiguous
  • I kind of felt stupid when I said the name to people for the first time. Often I would just get a glazed look in return.

All of these doubts had been troubling me for a while, but it was not until I watched this episode of Founder Stories, that I decided to do something about it.

Max Haot’s revelation

Max talks about how he re-branded his company Mogulus to LiveStream. Max talks about the doubts he had and a lot of what he said really resonated with me. It was after watching this video I decided I would completely re-brand to a name that I was happy with.

As I’ve previously wrote, I don’t believe domain names are really that important as part of the bigger picture, but I think the right brand and name can really make the difference between success and failure.

Finding honest feedback

I now needed to gather feedback to really validate my doubts on my chosen name. Finding honest feedback can be incredibly difficult for a couple of reasons. Firstly, people are often scared to be told that they have made a bad decision, or that their work is not very good. Some people find it difficult to accept criticism and therefore seek to avoid it. Thankfully I’m not one of these people, and I had already convinced myself that the name Cultivatus was terrible.

Secondly, it can be really difficult to get honest feedback from people you know. I value people who will give me honest feedback and tell me when things are terrible. However, I didn’t want to ask people I knew because they might not have been completely honest with me for fear of hurting my feelings.

Asking followers on Twitter or similar social networks can also give your incorrect feedback. The people who follow you have already given an implicit indication that they might subconsciously hold back from telling you the cold hard truth.

I felt I needed some kind of feedback in order to make such a radical change, but I needed a way to ask a question and get feedback from people who would be hearing Cultivatus for the first time. I think, especially for a name, you should ask people that are not already users of your product.

In order to get my feedback I decided to create a post on Hacker News.

Getting feedback from Hacker News

Hacker News is portal and discussion board hosted on the Y Combinator websites. For those of you that don’t know, Y Combinator is a business incubator founded by Paul Graham and is based in Silicon Valley. Y Combinator is mainly for online business start ups, and so my potentially audience was already pre-qualified as having an informed opinion on the question I was about to ask.

Here is a link to the question I asked Hacker News

As you can see, the very first reply really nailed all the doubts I had been having about the name. I think getting this kind of validation of a thought is incredibly valuable when making a big decision. The people that replied to my question did not know me personally and had no motivation to spare my feelings. They would be hearing the name for the first time and so had no feelings that may have swayed their feedback.

Taking action

After reading through the feedback from Hacker News, I decided I would spend this weekend re-branding. I didn’t want to completely move away from Cultivatus, but I did want to alter the name to something that fitted my criteria.

For me it was important that the name was short and rememorable. I wanted it to be no more than two syllables and I wanted the .com domain name. I don’t mind misspellings and extra letters and so I was happy to re-brand to

Steps to validate your ideas and get honest feedback

The point of this post is to highlight how important it is to validate your ideas and get honest feedback in order to make informed decisions. I think getting the feedback from Hacker News really gave me the confidence to completely re-brand. Here are the steps I would take if you are also looking to validate an idea and get some feedback.

1. Right down your ideas

It’s important to right down your ideas so you can keep track of your thoughts and your vision as you start getting feedback. Getting feedback can sometimes trick you into believing things that aren’t true. Think of this as a scientific experiment, first you must create your hypothesis.

2. Find a community to approach

If you are reading this post, chances are Hacker News could work for you too. Finding the right community to ask your question is important because you must ensure the respondents can give informed opinions. There are many other networks like Hacker News, but there are also literally thousands of niche communities out there that would be perfect for your project. Try and narrow your choice down and pick a community that you think will give you an honest and informed reply.

3. Take action

Don’t be disheartened or hurt by the replies. You know that they are not criticising you personally. Getting things right is the final destination of thousands of mistakes. It’s important to use this advice to improve your project. This honest feedback will probably be some of the best advice you could get, so use it wisely.

Philip Brown


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