July 12, 2019

How did you validate your product?

It's a question I keep seeing appear here on IH.

There is theory about validating your product, then there is real life.

Claire Lew's short answer of validating her product was by shipping it.

I'm curious to know what has worked in practice for indie hackers.

How did you validate your product?

#ask-ih

  1. 6

    I'm the worst, because I haven't yet. I'm just working on wiseer.io because it's fun :P I'll look into validating it soon though, since I've reached a point where it's useless to continue working on it unless people like it.

    Looking forward to seeing what others write here!

    1. 3

      Amazing idea, I love it! Best of luck with your product, I'm sure businesses will find it really useful.

      1. 4

        Thank you! I'm literally just a few hours away from uploading code that will transition it from beta to a purchasable service. But I just got married and haven't had time yet. So expect it to launch soon if you are interested! :)

        What are you working on?

        1. 2

          Awesome! Congratulations on the marriage.

          Certainly interested to follow your journey. Clients from my day job have asked for something like this for employee feedback, so I'm sure e-commerce and service providers would be interested in this.

          I'm quietly working away on https://yttoig.com (listed as a product on my profile if you want more info). But also starting to work on a B2B focussed product to help managers with thier personal development - https://pdphero.com

          1. 1

            Thank you!

            That's awesome to hear, maybe you could help me hook up some testers or some feature requests in the future :)

            Your projects looks cool! It's nice when you can build something "small" like yttoig and have it be instantly useful :)

    2. 2

      This product is awesome. I wish you the best of luck as you're moving forward.

      1. 1

        Thank you so much! :)

  2. 3

    For LogoTournament.com (two-sided market place that hosts logo contests) I had to validate two things:

    1. Would designers/suppliers actually participate?

    I tested this out by quickly creating a MVP with off-the-shelf forum software and then inviting a small list of targeted designers to the first contest. As an additional incentive I offered $20 to the first five participants to get things rolling. To my surprise, it actually worked.

    1. Could I get customers to pay?

    For this I had to actually build out the dedicated site which took a number of months, and then I started with Adwords. My results were dismal at the start ($1800 in Adwords to earn about $60 in fees) but I got my first real customer after about a week or two. And they were very, very happy. Eventually I experimented with FB ads and got some very decent traction until the law of shitty-click-throughs clicks kicked in.

    During this whole process I was supplying the customer side of the marketplace to keep things running essentialy on life support. It wasn't until I had real customers that it actually came alive on its own and was fully validated.

    1. 1

      I'm actually in the market right now for a re-branding of my company. I think I'll give your service a shot :-)

      1. 1

        Thank you for considering LT! When you are ready please email our support account and I’ll make sure your contest gets some free upgrades and promotion to our design community.

  3. 2

    I create a prototype and publish a teasing video (or screenshots, etc.) on Reddit or the dedicated communities. If there are question and feedback, then I consider it as validated.

    Having a landing page besides that where people can subscribe is also important in my opinion.

    1. 1

      Interesting idea. I'm working towards doing the same thing my self.

      I'm using Podia as of a week ago and their advice is to have about 20% of the product ready to demonstrate (20% across the whole content, not the first 20%) and then do a pre-launch campaign simular to what you've done there... would you agree from your experience?

      1. 1

        Yes it sounds good! Also, you can take some time to create contents at the same time you are building your project. That could help to create more visibility, you can do cross publishing. And the most important is, depending how useful your content is, it might help/inspire people.

  4. 2

    I think people can sometimes overthink the process - I just threw up a landing page (https://www.tribepulse.com ) , posted it on HN and got a few signups for early access - even got an email asking for priority access!

    1. 1

      I like this response because I too am a fan of the simple solution. There are a lot of nuts out there and so many people with sledge hammers waiting to open them.

      I'm thinking of getting 20% of my video content done (across the curriculum, not the first 20%) and then approaching a few communities on Reddit, Hacker News, Indie Hackers, and LinkedIn Groups I find speak to my topic.

      1. 1

        Yeah 100% I think launching early is especially valuable for educational products and the right choice for almost all situations (given you can produce content faster than students can progress)

        1. 1

          I'm not sure anyone could produce content faster than another person can consume it - it's a harder and longer process to produce a video than it is to watch it :-P

  5. 2

    My friend and I built couple of projects without any validation at all. We did absolutely no validation for the first one. It seemed like a cool thing to work and involved some interesting tech, so we dived in head first.

    The second one was more B2B (e-commerce businesses) and the motivation came from one of our clients requirements, which we thought was validation enough. We were hoping to have one of our clients as a first paying customer and use that to approach others. With our idea, the onboarding was quite intricate and required a lot of client’s time and input. In the end, it was hard to procure their time and involvement. I guess it wasn’t solving any of their REAL problems, so they weren’t that keen.

    We ran google, facebook and reddit ads, and we had click throughs but no signs ups. We also did our own research to find e-commerce companies and email / cold call them. We had some success and were able to get couple of people interested, but failed again in converting that interest into a paying customer.

    Nice experience, nonetheless, you live and learn, I guess.

    1. 1

      Great effort. Keep going. Never stop.

  6. 2

    I've been trying to write and call potential customers and have conversations with them about the product. That said, it can be hard to know when they are just being "nice", or when they are giving real feedback.

    1. 2

      Yeah it's definitely hard to tell, there's a book about it called The Mom Test.

      1. 2

        This book is amazing.

        Also check out Obviously Awesome, by April Dunford. Great book on market positioning.

  7. 2

    For my test preparation book, I ran a landing page test, ran google ads to drive traffic and tracked conversion against different price point to learn about profitability before I started writing the book. Book continues to generate decent royalties 10 years after I wrote it and I sold the mandarin right to a large business book publisher in Taiwan.

    For markd.co, we felt like it was validated when it was organically discovered and featured on ProductHunt. (I am not sure if this is the best way to validate ideas tbh)

    I have used landing page tests quite a few times now. It's much quicker to do than actually building out a prototype in many cases. It has been a great tool to know when not to go forward. It's a good way to get a bit of quantitative information if you are into utilising spreadsheets to help you model out the business/profitability. It certainly has its downsides if the idea is more B2B focused, harder to explain quickly, or if the sales process is more complex - but I think a properly designed one can still give you good info to go on.

    (if you are on Skillshare, I shared a lot of my previous tests, including the numbers for the book, on this video series Market Research - How to Test Your Idea in 2 Weeks (with real-world case studies)*. If you are not on Skillshare and are curious about the video series, you can find them on YouTube )

    *teacher referral link

    1. 1

      Hi Brandon,

      I'm curious if you have any preferred tools for rapidly setting up a landing page. I've looked at quite a few tools, I'm just curious if you have a favorite in terms of speed and cost.

      1. 1

        I’ve tried a bunch. My go-to at the moment are:

    2. 1

      How much did you pay for the Google Ad, and how much traffic did it generate?

      Regarding the landing page tests, how do you make sure to keep the customers until you can actually deliver the product?

      1. 1

        It depends. I normally bid around $0.50 per click, and try to get at least 100 to 500 visitors depending on the idea.

        I don't try to keep the customers at all. I think it's important to be in "testing mode" and not in "marketing mode". IMO the pages should be designed differently when you are testing vs when you are marketing it. When you are marketing it, you want to focus on optimising for conversion, when you are testing, you almost want the opposite. You don't want to optimise. I try to keep it simple for visitors to understand what the idea is and make it look like the product is polished/done (so yeah a bit of photoshopping is normally required to create product mockups), with a bit of resistance built in so it takes some effort for them to sign-up / convert so that we are not over optimistic about the idea.

        1. 2

          I ran a test a month ago to test two different feature ideas for markd.co. I used landen.co to build out the landing pages quickly. For conversion, I made it so that a visitor has to click on a "sign up" link, and then a pricing page, and then an email sign up form. I like at least having 2-3 steps to signup/convert to make sure people are actually interested enough.

          fyi, one of the tests was a lot more successful than the other (10x conversion)- and it gave us some interesting insights into what product direction we should go into ;)

          1. 1

            One last thing, the ads also provide some interesting insights. My take is:

            • Ad CTR tells you if there's a pain in the market - if people are searching for a solution.

            • Landing page conversion tells you if your product can solve the problem for them.

            They might have the problem and click on your ads, but don't necessarily think your product idea is the solution. In this case, you get the ctr from ads but no conversion from the page.

            1. 1

              Just curious, what ranges for CTR and conversion do you consider acceptable for moving forward with your idea?

              1. 1

                Most of my tests are for products that you pay for, either a one time cost or subscription. So instead of targeting a CTR/conversion rate, I look at cost of acquiring a customer (ad cost) vs unit sales (total revenue divided by number of visitors). The idea is to find out if it will be profitable on a per unit/visitor basis.

                If it’s not a paid product, I compare the CTR and conversion to industry averages. This will depend on the Ideas. Finding the right number to compare with can take time - Quora is your friend here ;)

  8. 2

    Before we launched Brace.io we interviewed target potential users. Then we built a prototype that was enough to record a screencast. We had users provide feedback on that, and iterated on the prototype / screencast, before beginning to write production code.

    It was definitely faster than building the product first, and it helped us get on the same page with our early target users. In the end, however, it didn't do enough to validate the demand. It was more for UX validation and feedback.

    1. 1

      Oops... your site doesn't seem to work: screenshot

        1. 1

          Wow, congrats. How did this acquisition happen? Were you seeking an exit, did you know someone at Squarespace, did they come knocking on your door? What's the backstory here? Thanks :)

          1. 1

            It was a really small deal, essentially an acqui-hire with a little cash and some stock. The company wasn't making any money and I was running out. I'd lost my cofounder. I just started having a lot of open-ended conversations. I was in YC so I had access to lots of potential acquirers. At some point one company expressed interest in our tech, which became an acquisition discussion. I leveraged that to push for other competing acquisition offers.

  9. 1

    I validated 1Brand.co by creating clickable prototypes in Marvel, and walking through those with anybody that would talk to me. Even if they weren't my target audience, it was productive. The two 'Golden Questions' are:

    1. What do you expect to do here (because anyone who has used a UI can answer this).

    2. Who else should I be talking to about this?

    The last one is the real money question because it validates whether the person you're interviewing really understands it (if your product is for chefs and they refer you to attorneys - it's time to rethink the prototype or presentation), and obviously because this can connect you with your target customers to interview.

    The other thing I did was make sure to talk to people who weren't my ideal customers so I could learn about the needs or concerns that kept them from being my ideal customers. I was concerned about rejection at first, but once I realized I learned as much from people who didn't want the product (in the form I presented), it really unblocked me mentally and emotionally from talking to everyone.

  10. 1

    In my last two startups, I presold about $5000 worth of revenue before committing. The one before that I built a landing page and got it on product hunt. I was lucky on that one and got a few hundred sign ups that week.

    I've found there are a lot of communities around the internet to approach with your product and get sign ups. But to me, there have always been two problems, sales and product. You have to solve both at the end of the day. But sales takes less upfront commitment.

  11. 1

    In my first startup, I actually validated it by getting (unpaid) beta users for something I was building as a side project and then iterating it again and again using user feedback. And one day I just decided to change from free to free TRIAL, plus a $9.95/mo pricing page.

    Got my first paying customer soon after. So I guess I got lucky by pivoting and pivoting based on user feedback until I hit something.

    1. 1

      And how many paying customers do you have today? How are things going?

  12. 1

    I'm still in process with my product (https://www.liroop.com). I'm still testing if the product should be charged by businesses or customers.

    1. 1

      If I understand the product correctly (it's a bit ambiguous), then it's something you should charge the business for, not the end consumer. When I'm buying something I want one price to contend with, not two: the product and your service charge.

      The business will just roll your service charge(s) into their pricing anyway.

      1. 1

        That was something I thought about. It seems to benefit customers more than businesses though. Yes, businesses sales may increase (because it's a simpler process). That's why I have that confusion who I should be charging.

  13. 1

    For my startup www.callcast.co I found a local 'career accelerator' that is training students who are looking to learn the skills for UI/UX, Customer research, etc. and i submitted CallCast to be a real world project for their students to work on. They accepted this as they get work for their portfolio and i got access via students working with me on CallCast to the schools systematic process for doing customer validation, user personas, UI ideation sessions, ect.

    Unfortunately i didn't do this earlier in my development process and already had a working beta but then again maybe it took that early development to be accepted as a project for their students to work on.

    Know your strengths and your weaknesses - mine has always been the early vetting so teaming up with a program or partner who is learning to do this is something that holds a lot of value and something i will do for future projects.

  14. 1

    I haven't really validated the product itself, but I think I've managed to validate the idea — set up a pretty barebones landing page on tinylens.io, and got 130+ emails (and counting)!

    Used one of my other projects for promoting the landing page, submitted the page to betalist, and shared it on twitter where relevant.

    Up next is talking to these subscribers.

  15. 1

    I ran surveys on reddit.com/r/sample_size in order validate the assumptions I was making about people's image downloading habits for my product Stowbots (stowbots.com). I'm incredibly glad I did this because not only were my assumptions validated but I also gained some really cool insights about the market that I wouldn't have guessed otherwise. Unfortunately I did not ask about pricing during this validation (I didn't think answers would be trustworthy at that time), so whether or not people will actually pay at a profitable price-point has yet to be seen. Now I'm running a pricing survey to try to get a better fix on the ideal price.

  16. 1

    Mostly because I wanted the app to exist for myself but I did a quick UI mockup and created a product hunt upcoming landing page with which I collected emails and that provided a little bit of validation for the idea - bookshulf.com

    1. 1

      Awesome product idea, mate.

      Your TLS setup is broken, though. And the UI needs a lot of work. I would forego the book shelf look and get a decent premium template from somewhere instead.

      1. 1

        This comment was deleted a month ago.

  17. 1

    I'm like some of you, I started a project w/o validating it first. I've been working on syrreo.com for a while, I do have few beta users who love the products but that's all.

    I'm so deep into development that It's too late for me to quite. I'm officially going to launch early next month. Crossing my fingers!...

  18. 1

    We're building LeagueSide.com a marketplace where regional/national companies can sponsor youth sports leagues at scale.

    We found that nothing beats calling and talking to people. Early on, we didn't have enough users to have meaningful quantitative data, so we relied on conversations.

    For leagues, we spoke to hundreds of volunteers (cold emailed and cold called) to learn about their sponsorship pain points. The fact that we could easily reach out and get on a call was validation that sponsorship was a need.

    For companies, it was all about sales. We tried to find as many people in marketing possible, get them on the phone, give them a pitch, and ultimately close a deal with them. Our first deal was for $50 with a smoothie store... that became $50k in 6 months!

  19. 1

    What a great thread. Thanks, everyone, for sharing so openly.

    @rosiesherry, how did you validate Ministry of Testing?

    1. 1

      I had an active online community and I knew there was a need for grass roots style conference. So I hosted one. I didn't ask people if they wanted it, it was more of an educated gut feel.

      1. 2

        Thanks, Rosie. It feels like having a community that you've taken to time to cultivate comes with inherent trust & goodwill built in. And you can't replace an in-person community! I can see why those in-person events were lapped up so willingly.

      2. 2

        "I had an active online community" - I honestly believe this is the key to promoting/validating any new idea. All other methodologies are valid but offer much lower yields versus a community who is already a fan of your work.

        1. 2

          Nail on the head! And I think this is where a genuine interest in the audience you're catering to is important - as building a community takes some effort & commitment!

  20. 1

    I'm doing the same with PayButton.

    I came up with the idea when I realized another idea wouldn't be feasible. In my research I found all the tech components to build my auto-tax copy-paste checkout button. Also, I found Checkout Page here on IH by @sanderfish, which is a very similar product that seems to be working out for them.

    That was enough validation for me to decide to build an MVP and ship it.

    Now I'm working on finding my first 10 ideal customers—in order to validate it as a business.

    🙏⏩If you know someone who:

    1. wants to charge for their products/services* on their website and who

    2. are based in the EU and

    3. can't use Gumroad, Paddle or FastSpring...

    ... please help a fellow IH:er and send them my way. ♥️

    * Ideally they'd be selling Services or Coaching.

    1. 1

      I'd be very interested in knowing what the pricing model looks like.

      I know someone who would need something that's ideally a one-time purchase on wordpress.

      1. 2

        I haven’t decided exactly how to do pricing, but it would need to be based on usage. I’m considering a flat fee per sale, but it could also be a percentage per sale. I’m open to suggestions—I want to make the pricing as easy as possible but it needs to cover my operating costs (each tax calculation is relatively expensive).

        1. 1

          I think people are very vary about adding even more percentage points per sale on products like this, the payment processor will always take their cut as well.

          Depending on how you choose to sell it I'd look into another model. If you sell it as a wordpress plugin, maybe charge for it as a one time purchase.

          Otherwise a monthly fee with different usage levels might be best. Then it comes off like an expense rather than something that eats of your profits.

          1. 2

            Thanks for taking the time to feedback!

            maybe charge for it as a one time purchase.

            A one time purchase is impossible since I have running costs for the tax engine that wouldn’t be lower because of self-hosting.

            I’ve been considering a minimum monthly fee that provides X “credits”. Any unused credits would roll over to next month.

  21. 1

    I validated CoffeePass by talking to different Coffee Shop owners. Getting their feedback on the need and if this was something they really wanted to see. We reached out to 100 different coffee shops and surveyed them on the idea. They had really good feedback and wanted the product.

    This was only enough validation for us to decide it was worth it to build a simple MVP. We then built as simple of an MVP as possible in 2 months (on the side of our full time jobs at the time) and launched it at one coffee shop.

    This is where the real validation came in. we tested it at just that one coffee shop for 6 months. By the end our results were really good and we did a case study that showed some great data. So we decided to keep going at that point.

    1. 1

      How did you approach analyzing their answers?

      Sometimes people say "I would buy that!" and later they don't buy it. Have you encountered any situations like that yet?

      1. 1

        We definitely encountered that. We had some of those shops that said they want it not actually do anything about it for 9 months till they finally joined the platform. Others that said they wanted to but didn't at all.

        We really didn't analyze their answers that well in the initial survey. We more just saw it as there was enough interest to go ahead and validate further. I don't think we could have really had a clear picture unless we just went and build it.

        1. 2

          I don't think we could have really had a clear picture unless we just went and build it.

          That's how I often feel—and how I've approached https://paybutton.app. There's nothing like actually putting something close to what you have in mind in front of people.

          I've heard a lot of people say that the question "what are you doing right now to solve that thing?" will show a more true picture, but I don't have enough experience with asking it to have any deep insight.