After working with two early stage startups, and confirming my own idea this past summer, I’ve seen and felt my fair share of mistakes with the validation process. It was a huge learning experience, so no regrets.
I have no intention of validating another business idea anytime soon. But if I had to do it all over again, or mentor someone through it, here’s how I would go about it:
If an offering is fully formed in my mind, with features, benefits and pricing: I would try to sell it, asap. No landing page. No social media. No MVP. I would simply get out there and make a sale or pre-sale as quickly as possible. Boom, validation.
If I only had a semblance of an idea: I would set up 3 to 5, one-to-one conversations with people who met my user criteria. My only goal at this point is to find out whether an idea is worth pursuing. If it isn’t, no harm no foul. If it is, then I would ask my interviewees to participate in my feedback loop and continue to grow the number of participants in that loop while I sharpen my focus.
Some entrepreneurs work on growing their community before scheduling their one-to-one conversations, but I prefer to work the other way around. I love connecting with people individually, so starting this way makes sense. Besides, there’s no point in growing a list if my idea won’t pan out.
What about online surveys? Not in the beginning. The downside to early online surveys is that you run the risk of making false assumptions or overlooking some crucial ones. Talking to users results in responses that online surveys simply can’t muster.
If you’re worried about receiving dishonest feedback (people holding back because they don’t want to hurt your feelings), I would argue that the opposite is true. Users really will tell you what they want, in a good way.
What about talking to friends and family? I’m not a fan. They’ll just tell you what you want to hear — it’s their job, after all. Although, if they meet your criteria, it’s better than nothing. But with the caveat that you may collect biased data.
What if you don’t know anyone who meets your user criteria? Leverage your network and ask for names. You’re bound to receive some good leads. Remember, you only need to talk to 3 to 5 individuals during each round – 75% of your findings will come after talking to the 3rd person, and things begin to taper off after talking to the 5th person.
Once I’ve gathered my initial feedback, I’ll use that information to improve my idea, talk to another 3 to 5 people about the refinements, and continue in this fashion until I have a viable product in my mind (though I wouldn’t go past 3 or 5 rounds). And then I would try to sell it, asap. Perhaps to someone on my list. Still no designing or building at this point, but I might have a sales page. Might. Once I’ve made a sale or know with certainty that my users will buy, I’ll start thinking about my MVP and all the rest of it.
For the record, I validated my idea in 90 days. But looking back, I would’ve done it in 30.
I’ll bet that if you’re reading this, you have an idea, too. Stop tinkering and go talk to someone, already ;)
Until next time,
image: Public Domain – CC0 1.0