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My Method to Validate your B2B Idea

Hello, fellow indie hackers!

I’m seeing a lot of posts asking to validate business ideas or steps to approach the validation process. So I thought I’d share with you my method for B2B idea validation. If this post does well I would love to keep expanding this piece with more details, so please let me know.

Why would you need to validate your idea?
This may sound obvious, but we don’t hear about those entrepreneurs who may have a great idea, but didn’t develop a solution that fits the needs of their audience. They end up spending time, money and energy on a product that is doomed to failure, because they didn’t validate it before.

Get to know what your customers need, because they’re the ones who will buy your product. Being passionate about your idea is great, and it is the fuel that will make your business go further. But if you don’t know what road you’re supposed to take to get to your destination, then what’s the point?

So without further ado, here is my step-by-step guide to validate your idea in the B2B world.

1. Define the problem you think is worth solving

Start with brainstorming and doing some research on problems faced by companies or by a certain type of company in the daily lives of the people working there. The problem you’ll choose has to be a pain point for them, something they spend too much on (time, money, energy, employees, you name it).
Think if it is something that really has potential to bother businesses or if it’s something they can easily live with. For example, Mike and Susan might both be really annoyed with answering their business emails, and declare they’d be ready to give a million to have someone do it for them. But if they only have one or two emails to answer monthly, don’t bother developing a product saving 10 minutes of their months.
Once you’ve found this pain point making tasks more difficult for these businesses, you’re ready to start step 2.

2. Define your solution

Now is the time to think about what you could put in place to relieve companies or certain job positions (e.g. telecommunication or aviation companies, developers or accountants) from the problem you found earlier.
Think of what already exists, and how it works: does it solve the problem efficiently enough? Fast enough? How much time or money does it cost? How qualified must one be to use this solution? Does it create other problems on the side… Make a list of each existing solution, their advantages and their drawbacks. The advantages you’ll see in a solution must remain in yours if you want to be competitive, and the drawbacks will be something your solution does not contain. Your solution doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you want to have a competitive advantage, you’ll have to come up with something less flawed than what is already on the market.

You can think innovatively as well: what brand new solution could you come up with that would be unique and distinguishable?
Now this second way of thinking will make the whole adventure more complicated and riskier. Why? Because when you think of building something inspired from what already exists, you’re putting a first step in a pre-existing market. You might wonder “how is it a good thing to set foot on a market where I’ll find products that will be similar to mine, where I’ll be competing for my share at all times?”... Well, this simply means your idea has potential. If someone already proposed a comparable solution before, it means it works, it means people are ready to buy it. From another perspective, if you’re launching a product that is conceptually different from anything else on the market, that it’s so innovative no one thought about it before, it probably means there is something wrong with it (with the idea, with the technology, or even with the customers).

The idea you’ll come up with doesn’t have to be too elaborate, because you’ll finish developing with the help of your audience. Which brings up to step 3. Fasten your seatbelt, write your core idea down, and let’s start reaching out!

3. Begin with your public outreach campaign

This step is decisive, as it basically is where you’ll start validating the idea you’ve built in the first two steps.
The only thing you’ll need before beginning is a LinkedIn account, as I believe it’s the best medium to have a first professional chat, and the campaign process can be very simplified. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, or have an old one you don’t really use, it’s totally fine. I didn’t have a lot of connections at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey apart from people I’ve worked with or been in school with. Now when I post something on this platform, I can see more than a thousand people reading what I write. So create your account, fill in the information to give you some background for people who don’t know you, connect with a few people to get more credibility, and let’s dive in the serious business!

- Reaching out

Define your target audience very precisely with linkedin job title and company filters. For example, if you want to create a solution for developers of computer apps in the English-speaking world, your can pick for the categories Locations / Industry / Service categories the filters US + UK + Canada + Australia (among others) / Computer Software + Information Technology & Services / Software Development, and add the keyword “developer” further in the filters.
Now you have a more or less precise list of people you could contact. The preciseness depends on the amount of filters you added: the more categories you decide to filter, the less people you’ll find, but the more compatible they will be. The more filters in each category you add, the more the search is extended.

Reach out to the profiles you find interesting and compatible with the product you want to create: send a connection request, joined with a generic message giving compliments (on their journey, on their accomplishments…) and asking for help. As an indie hacker yourself, it might not come off as a surprise for you but people are usually happy to help. Maybe not the majority of the people you’ll get in touch with, but a decent enough amount. The connection requests will help your profile become more legitimate and professional, so even when people don’t reply, accepting to join your circle is already a win. In your conversations, ask to set up a meeting (or a call, depending on what you and the people you’re interacting with prefer).
To those who accept without replying to your text, write a follow-up message. It will show you’re truly willing to get their help. Add a calendly link to schedule a meeting without needing them to interact with you through text to make the process easier for them.

Don’t forget to check LinkedIn daily to see who has replied and is interested or would like more details. For the latter, have a more detailed message ready.

WARNING: in each of the messages you’re going to send prior to having this meeting with your contact, do not mention your idea, or at least not explicitly, as it would result in a biased reaction from them, and you would not be able to rely on their response.

- During the meeting / call

Start with a short intro of what you want to do on this call because you don’t want to waste people's time that have misunderstood your generic message. Say who you are, what you do and why you need their opinion. Just don’t mention your idea, for the same reason as the one mentioned a few lines above. Instead, explain what problem you want to fix, mention what stage in the process you’re at, and speak about the weakness of your project, which is normally the part the person you’re discussing with can help you on.
Then, ask them high level questions about their job so you make sure to understand who they are and where they fit into their company. Get to know in which group of possible customers you can put them. Personally I keep a list of specific job titles/functions with names and interest score for each interview I did in this category.
Then start with the more specific questions about their daily work life and how they spend their time. This is the main part where you’ll find out the useful information that will help you understand if your idea is good or not.

A few examples of good questions include:

  • How do you do X? What do you like and dislike about X? Have you looked for a replacement for X, and if so, why?
  • How much do you currently pay to solve this problem? How much time do you spend work on it?
  • How are you dealing with X? What are the implications of that?

A few examples of things to avoid:

  • Mentioning your idea, as the person you’ll be speaking with will want to be nice to you and approve of it in front of you no matter what they really think.
  • Asking questions based on hypothesis and on the future, as they cannot predict if the reaction they’ll have would be the same as the one they think they would have.
  • Telling them what problem they have and overselling your idea. It is possible that the person you’re talking with doesn't have the problem you want to fix, or that this problem only represents a minor inconvenience for them.

For more tips to get ready for this interview session, I strongly recommend reading the Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick, in which you’ll learn to avoid bad data, to spot the right and wrong questions to ask, and to dig deeper into your interviewees’ minds. Short and fun read.

4. Get to understand your market’s mechanics

This part might be less fun if you’re not a market analyst, but you’ll need to get through it before reaching the final step, and being proud of what you accomplished.

- The benchmark session

For those who are not used to big marketing terms, a benchmark is simply definable as a concurrential analysis. For this point, I suggest you to reach out to other companies with products that would compete with yours, to understand how they are solving the problem. Schedule meetings with them and ask basically everything you want to know before launching your product. You can ask about what they find difficult, what they would have liked to know before starting their business, how tough the competition is, how many customers they have, etc.

- Your bottom-up market size estimate

Give yourself an estimate of the market size by looking at how many people there are on Linkedin which have your target job categories. How much time can you save them? How much does their time usually cost?
This is your bottom-up market size estimate. The result you have here will tell you if your idea is profitable. By then, you should know if you’re on the right track, if you can modify your idea, or if it’s probably better to give it up.
Then, make a list of companies in the field. You can use https://corepo.org, https://us.kompass.com/, https://www.crunchbase.com/ to make sure you don’t miss any target company that doesn’t appear for some reason in the LinkedIn search. Using an estimate of hours saved per company (as a percentage of their workforce being our target), you can finally improve the market sizing. Having this list of companies also helps for your next and final phase, which is systematic B2B sales outreach.

5. Test a demo version of your product

Start this step with building a crappy but good-looking version of your product. It’s fine if only 1% of this version is real tech and 99% is fake, what matters is that you actually have something to showcase it to potential investors. I insist on the fact it has to look good: as it is just a demo version, people won’t expect to see something functioning perfectly with plenty of cool features, this is what you’ll present with words only. Instead, they will have to be able to visualize what your finished product is supposed to look like. They have to find it appealing and to want more of it, to want you to keep working on it and releasing something great.

Now is the time to introduce your prototype to potential investors and potential co-developers. In this demonstration phase, show how you use your product. Insist on the benefits, and the future opportunities. Make them understand you have great ambitions for your product, while being open to suggestions and constructive criticism. Detail who would benefit from your product (hence the list of companies you made in the last step).
This session is decisive, as that’s where you’ll understand if your idea really is worthwhile: if people are ready to invest at an early stage with real money, you truly have a product that matters for this industry.

…………………………………………………………………………………………

That’s it guys, after following these steps, you should be 100% sure your idea is worth spending time and money on it. It may seem like a long process, but trust me, nothing is worse than launching a product without having the idea properly validated beforehand, and ending up wasting your time, your money and especially your energy in something that was doomed from the beginning without knowing it.

I hope this little guide will prove helpful for you. If you did find it interesting and/or useful, you can upvote it and tell me what you thought of it in the comment section.

Thanks for reading!

P.S : I built https://corepo.org a while ago for the B2B market research phase of this process. It's not my main gig at the moment but I would really love to get some positive encouragement. If this is something that is also useful to you, any kind of feedback would help bringing a new dynamism for that product.

  1. 4

    The Mom Test, a classic! Haha
    Thanks for the post, and I'm definitely gonna check corepo, had never heard of it before, but it sounds pretty interesting!

    1. 2

      Thanks man, I appreciate it. Please when you do check it, tell me what you think of it! :)

    2. 1

      Haha, another name is "customer development" :)))

  2. 3

    Great write-up (bookmarked!). Thanks for taking the time to do this :)

    I just checked coRepo and here goes my most honest feedback:

    1. First thing is I have no idea what the site does. I would've left the homepage in less than 3 sec. I only put the effort to dig deeper because I'm trying to help.

    Although I can understand you wanna keep the UI clean as a search engine, you're not Google. People need to know your value proposition right away. You could add a header, a paragraph, a placeholder, something that tell users what you offer immediately.

    A great example of this that you could take as inspiration is duckduckgo.com
    Pay attention to the search input (it has their promise) and the text right below the search. Their value is obvious and immediate.

    1. Your filters are fantastic, why are they hidden? I only noticed them after several minutes inspecting the site. I know once you know where they are, you'll just click on the funnel icon. But remember, most people will never even get to that stage. You could either make this more prominent or show the most important fields right below the main input with an slide down to see them all or something. Having the filters more visible would also contribute to explain what properties I can find on those companies.

    2. "Why would I use this site instead of Google?" Your value proposition should be stronger. You should promote this as a company directory, not a search engine which is what your design both on the homepage and result pages are communicating.

    • The value here is not finding the companies homepages
    • The real value is the special information about those companies that you're providing: founded, employee count, funding, etc.

    Your results don't highlight any of this. Forget about replicating Google's layout. You're a directory with super-valuable data, highlight that!

    1. Are you a non-profit? Otherwise, ditch the .org and find another domain with more business potential.

    2. Your logo (and maybe the name itself) could be much better. More business oriented. Your target customers know nothing nor care about stackoverflow (that's the reference I got from the logo). Your logo font is too generic too. This is not a super big-deal, especially at this stage. But it's important that you try to create a strong brand that emits trust, uniqueness and reliability.

    PS. I apologize if I might sound blunt, but I tried to be honest and helpful. The way I wish someone did with me, instead of just saying how cute things are.

    Best of luck my friend, you're in a great market!! :)

    1. 1

      Don't apoligize man, I appreciate the honesty and your feedback is extremely valuable to me, especially because it all totally makes sense to me. I just have one genuine question about the domain, do you really think the .org can have a negative impact on the potential amount of users?

      Thanks a lot for taking the time to write such a detailled comment, for your positive feedback and you constructive criticism! :)

      1. 1

        Alright, thanks for the information @typologist & @mvpcto, I didn't realise the .org would eventually become that much of a burden. I'll have a conversation with my colleagues to see what they think of changing the name!

      2. 1

        Sweet! (I've been living enough in Canada that the "sorry" comes natural to me, lol).

        About the domain, yes, I really think an .org will do more harm than good to your brand. If availability was the reason, I would try other extensions or even a different name. That's a valid possibility because honestly, corepo is not that good as a name. Maybe to you it meant "company + repository", I'm guessing? But that's not obvious to other people because "co" is not long enough to act as a trigger to remind the full word.

        Don't get stuck on a single name, especially at the expense of a bad extension.

        Short story. Long time ago, I got so obsessed with a name for a startup idea that I ended up paying $3K for it. And guess what? It didn't matter. A less than ideal name performed much better than that one I had paid big bucks for. So I ended up not using it and regretting spending that money.

        Love your idea. Best of luck!

      3. 1

        I second @typologist in that I think .org sends the wrong message if your goal is to do this for profit. From thenew.org:

        .org is the home for millions of nonprofit websites, including charitable, artistic, scientific, personal, educational, social, cultural and religious sites. .org sites are run by clubs, incorporated and unincorporated not-for-profit organizations, industry associations, families, individuals, schools, foundations, and more. Even for-profit companies have .org sites devoted to their charitable or volunteer programs.

        While these are just guidelines I think the world has largely followed this guidance so this is what people expect when they see a .org. I think the one big exception to this is craigslist .org although I think they get away with it because it's 1) so community driven/run, 2) so established (started in the early days of the www), and 3) could be turned into a non-profit tomorrow and most users/customers wouldn't know the difference.

  3. 1

    Great post. This seems like the perfect approach to validating my new B2B project. Do you have any advice for someone who is trying to keep their current project separate from previous projects? In other words I have set up a new account with the name of my new product here on IH and am starting to build connections here but LinkedIn seems more tied to individuals. And my personal LinkedIn account is already tied to my previous project. Either way thanks for such a well written and detailed post.

    1. 2

      That's a very good question. You can create a page for your product and connect with potential customers as well as potential partners. It can have a very good impact if the product is well-known and if the page is kept active very regularly (twice or three times a week), but starting from zero, I can't assure it will get as much success as a personal profile.
      Then I don't know anything about your project so my advice may not be appropriate but that's what I have observed

      1. 1

        Thanks I appreciate it. I'll look into a product page.

  4. 1

    I agree with most of what you wrote but I am struggling with this bit " if you’re launching a product that is conceptually different from anything else on the market, that it’s so innovative no one thought about it before, it probably means there is something wrong with it " That describes the iPhone, Twitter, Netflix and a whole lot of other very cool services to a large degree.

    1. 2

      Well, if you are a big corporation that can allow it to be wrong, then it's totally fine. But if you are an indie hacker with zero budget... you just don't have resource to teach people that your product is supercool and great. The only exclusion is when you solve a real-life problem and there are no other solutions yet but this scenario has very low probability.

    2. 1

      That's an interesting point. Firstly I would totally agree with SeaCat, indie hackers will usually have low budgets and can less afford to have a business idea that doesn't work.

      What I meant by that statement was not that something new and really different from what already exists is bound to fail. What I meant is that not everyone is Steve Jobs, and you will rarely have an idea that absolutely no one thought about (and potentially tested) before. Of course if you do or think you do, I encourage you to test your idea and to do what you can to make it work :)

  5. 1

    Very in-depth post! Good stuff, a TLDR would've been nice tho, just to skim the method.

    1. 1

      Thanks for your comment, and you're right about the TLDR, I just didn't want to oversimplify what I was writing, not too sound too amateurish haha. Next time I'll take more time to think of a good outline and phrasing to keep it short :)

  6. 1

    Hi Ruben

    Thanks for sharing!
    I saw you project as well, nice work! it is pretty fast, may I ask which is your stack?

    1. 2

      Hey buddy, thanks for your nice comment.
      To answer your question: we don't really use any frameworks there is a bunch of custom code its python and postgres with redis cache on hetzner baremetal machines. We did experiments with Elastic but it was not worth it, you know whenever you can have a database on one machine you definitely should try hard to keep it on one machine. So how we make the search index smarter is by running offline machine learning also to identify exactly which sentences are relevant for describing the company and then only index those. Additionally we have some fancy stuff going on to pre-compute ranks for a lot of keywords but you'll notice whenever you search something more unique it is slow. So yeah ok it's not just 1 machine but the core fast stuff has 1 DB on one fat fast disk then there is another DB that has much more disk (cheaper slower storage) which is used for that long tail

      1. 1

        Thank you for the details, that is impressive! I am big fan of custom solutions like this.

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