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There is a famous saying that “an idea is worth a dollar, but an idea properly executed is worth a billion.” The first step towards executing your idea is properly validating that idea.
Validating an idea may sound easy but it’s surprisingly difficult to get reliable information. The easiest forms of validation, such as asking your friends if they like your idea, often provide the least reliable information. People will say your idea is great because they don’t want to sound stupid or make you sound stupid. Once you spend endless time and money to develop that idea, often then they never buy it because it doesn’t solve the root cause of their problem.
Here’s some tips to helping you find the right people, asking the right questions, and getting the most reliable information.
You can’t validate your idea unless you get of the building and talk to people.
If your trying to sell your product/service to hospitals, validating the front-desk volunteer person isn’t going to get you the information you need. You need to validate the end users (doctors, nurses) or whomever writes the checks (hospital administrators).
Look for people that are connected to you online (LinkedIn, Facebook) that meet your end-user profile description. Attend meetups, trade conferences, professional organizations, network organizations. Ask your family, friends, professors, mentors, co-workers if they know anyone in your target market.
People want to help out. It is part of our human nature. Begging, groveling, and telling them that you are not trying to sell them anything will open doors you never expected you could open. If you’re a student, don’t be afraid to play that card as well
Surveys are great when you know a lot about your product/service but still have a couple unknowns you want to solve. Surveys are not good when you are in early stage validation and have a lot of unknowns. The reason they are not great is because you’re working with a fixed set of questions and can’t dive deep into the respondents individual problems.
When you have many unknowns, the best approach is to meet in-person with 3 to 5 people that accurately represent your targeted end-user. Have prepared a set of questions but don’t be afraid to go off script. Look for patterns in their responses. Use the information you learned from them to redefine your idea, questions, or who your interview. Iterate on the process by meeting with 3 to 5 more people.
To learn more about conducting a validation interview, see the next section below.
One of the best ways to validate your end-user is to shadow them working. It takes more time and effort, but you will learn more about the root cause of their problems.
A wonderful way to learn whether you have a promising idea is to usability test competitor’s products/services and try to gauge what the customers like or don’t like about those products/services. This will help you understand if there is a need for your product/service and a big enough gap in the current offerings.
To learn how to usability test, check out Steve Krug’s videos and documents on usability testing below.
The most accurate form of validation is for you to have a product/service that exists and ask end-users to buy it. If you don’t have a product/service available here are a couple tricks.
Zappos wanted to test whether people would buy shoes online. To test out their idea, they went around to shoe stores, took pictures of shoes, posted them on their website, and then went back to the stores and bought and shipped the shoes when customers ordered them. The process was very time consuming and they lost a lot of money. However, they ended up validating what would eventually become a billion-dollar business.
Another way to sell before you have a product is to sell the product as a consulting service or a watered-down version. For example, if you plan on creating an automatic pet washing machine, first try to sell pet cleaning services.
Always start with the two magic questions. I came here to try to validate an idea we have related to your daily problems. Before we begin, I first want to know if there is anything you want to accomplish in this meeting, for example are there any big problems that you face we could begin discussing. Once they have talked about what they want to gain, ask them why that is important to them.
The moment your respondent knows what you are validating, they are biased. They will modify their response to avoid sounding stupid or making you feel stupid. It’s okay to give them a broad idea of what you are working on but try to leave out the details until after they have answered all your questions.
People often agree, make things up, or remain silent because they don’t want to sound stupid or hurt your feelings. Remind them that you are not testing their knowledge and that they aren’t going to hurt your feelings. Remind them that the more candid they are, the more it will help your business.
Customers will often tell you one thing but then do the complete the opposite. Be careful about relying on their words. Their actions often speak the loudest.
When you validate, people will share their surface level problems and often not realize that they have a deeper problem that they haven’t even recognized. Try to uncover those deeper issues by continually asking “why is that a problem or why is that important”.
Throughout the validation process, respondents will be trying to guess what you are working on. Once they do, they are biased. To prevent bias, add questions that don’t relate to your product or service.
Another way too prevent bias is to repeat the same questions using very different wording. If you get a similar responses it helps you to know that the respondents were paying attention, understood the question, and were giving you reliable information.
Early stage validation is one of the only times where being wrong should be encouraged. Being wrong means, you saved yourself the time and money of pursing an idea or version of your idea that would have failed. Being wrong means, you can pivot to a better idea or better version of your idea quicker than the competition.
Being vague with your idea, questions, or your target market can be disastrous. It’s easy to think that if your product/service can be everything to everyone that you won’t fail. That is often the easiest way to fail. It’s okay to explore multiple ideas, questions, and target markets but explore them one at a time so you can know exactly what works and what will fail.
The end goal of validation interviews is to get to early product-market fit. Early product-market fit means defining a minimum viable product that early adopters will purchase. A minimum viable product is a product that requires minimum effort to produce satisfactory results for paying customers. Early adopters are customers who have the need and ability to buy your product prior to any other customers.
Set a reminder to follow up with your respondents 24 hours after your meeting to thank them for their time. These respondents may become your customers or help you out with further testing so you want to treat them really well.
Conducting a Customer Interview – Steve Blank
Acting on Customer Discovery – Steve Blank
Do It Yourself Usability Testing – Steve Krug
How to do a user Interview – Google Customer Discovery
Customer Discovery: What Do You Ask? – Justin Wilcox
Overcoming Your Customer Interviewing Anxiety – Customer Dev Labs
Sweet Resource Library – Sensible