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How to Gain Free Feedback from Your Classmates When student entrepreneur Nina Foroutan was tight on cash she employed her classmates as product testers.

By Nina Foroutan

I have a great idea for a food product. I love it, my family loves it, and the recipe has been in my family for ages. I decide I want to launch it as a packaged good to sell to the public. But wait. How will I know if people will love it enough to actually buy it?

This was the dilemma that stood in the way of my business plan and plan of action for Youthful Chef turkey patties. My product is an organic vegetable and turkey patty that can replace any meat lover's hamburger -- all while providing an entire serving of healthy vegetables.

Before embarking on a full-fledged manufacturing and distribution run, I needed to test out my patties on my target market: 20- to 30-year-olds who want to live a healthy lifestyle and eat sustainable, organic foods. As a startup on a tight budget, hiring a panel of testers would be costly and time consuming. But, I knew I could not afford to move forward without this valuable knowledge.

Related: How to Test Market a New Product

I was in class one day, voicing my concerns about whether my turkey patties would be sellable and profitable, when one of my classmates said, "Why don't you test them out on us? We'd love to try them."

That's when it clicked: What a simple solution. I could use my classmates as my test panel. They know me well enough to give a thorough critique, yet aren't emotionally invested in our friendship enough to feel obligated to spare my feelings. Plus, they have the formal entrepreneurship training that comes with being in business school, so they're keen on what to look for in creating a profitable business venture.

I invited a group of them over to my house one weekend and made my Youthful Chef turkey patties, along with the three sauce options I would sell along with them. I made two batches -- one fresh and one that had been frozen. I also made-up comment cards and told my classmates that they could either write their name on the card or leave it anonymous, although knowing who the criticism came from would be helpful because it would allow for further discussion.

Related: 7 Ways to Weigh Your Start-Up Risks ¢â‚¬" and Reduce Them

I also asked what they would pay for a four-pack of frozen patties at the supermarket. Surprisingly enough, no one omitted their name, and they were very honest and straightforward about their analysis. There were no "great" or "tastes good" responses, but rather more elaborate descriptions of the good and the bad.

Here are three tips I learned from my student product panel experience:

  1. You don't always need to spend money to make money. Use all the possible resources that are readily available to you before spending a dime. Usually talking to professors and experts in the field you are entering (in my case, supermarket chain suppliers) can offer you precious, invaluable knowledge.

  2. Don't get deterred if you get negative feedback. Not every comment on those cards was positive. Some were a hard pill to swallow, but it's that analysis that's crucial to your future success. If you get discouraged, remind yourself that this process is meant to help you make your product better and more successful.

  3. Get a second opinion. In business, in life and at the doctor. I believe you should always have a second, third or even fourth assessment of your idea and product plan. Remember, more is always better than less when it comes to research and planning for your entrepreneurial venture.

Nina Foroutan is currently pursuing her MBA at Babson College focusing on entrepreneurship, while building her Youthful Chef brand, an innovative health food company that will be served at Babson dining halls in Fall 2012. For her undergraduate education she attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst and graduated with a dual degree in journalism and international studies. She has worked as the assignment desk editor for the evening news programs and WHDH Channel 7 in Boston and WCVB Channel 5 News in Needham, Mass. Follow her on Twitter.

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