Validating a product properly can be make or break. It's a big topic, so I didn't get into it in my post on generating startup ideas. But people seemed interested in that part of the process, so I did some digging.
Here's a list of validation techniques, starting with the easiest (which also tend to be low-confidence) and moving to the hardest (high-confidence). Hope it helps!
Validation is the process of determining whether there is a need for your product in the market, as well as whether people are willing to pay to have that need met.
It requires a deep dive into the problem, the market, and the solution (product). And it's how we founders step outside of our founder blindness and rely on cold, hard data to show us whether or not a product has legs.
In this context, the truest form of validation tends to be the exchange of money.
Ways to validate: Market research
The first step is to do some research. This, in itself, probably won't serve as sufficient validation, but it's your first line of defense against unsustainable ideas.
Start by writing down your goals, assumptions, and hypotheses. What will you be testing? What will you consider as validation? Then get into your research.
- Conduct a competitive analysis: Do you have any competition? If so, that's generally considered a good thing (within reason). Identify your competitors and look into how they're doing. If they're thriving, that could be a measure of validation right there. To really understand your competitors, you can take it a step further with a SWOT analysis.
- Check out marketplaces: In the same vein as competitive analysis, check out marketplaces where products like yours are sold. The number of similar products, as well as their ratings and comments, can give you a new level of insight into the market and what your target customers are looking for.
- Check out review sites: Yet another form of competitive analysis. Look up reviews of your competitors on sites like G2 and Capterra. You can learn a lot about the struggles of your potential customers this way, and you'll learn whether your idea fills a hole that other products aren't filling.
- Discover search interest: Tools like Google Trends, Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, and SEMRush can help you to understand what (and if) people are searching in your niche. More to the point, you can find out whether your solution is being sought out and if it's on the rise, or if a pivot could bring you more in line with the search traffic.
- Online (and offline) communities: @amyhoy calls it a "Sales Safari." Essentially you want to go where your target customers hang out and watch them interact. You'll often hear about pain points, purchasing decisions, and all sorts of things you might otherwise be clueless about.
- Quora: Check out questions people have asked in relation to your idea. What are they trying to solve? What are the most upvoted answers? Again, this can provide invaluable insight into your market and how relevant your product will be.
It's worth noting that having founder-market fit is a huge leg up when it comes to market research, as you'll already have a good feel for the market.
Ways to validate: Market testing (and human interaction)
If everything looks promising with your research, start talking to other humans.
Note: Before doing this, I'd recommend giving The Mom Test by @robfitz a read — more on that in a moment.
- Share with colleagues: After all, they know the industry and may be able to provide solid insight. You can share with other people you know too, of course. But the closer they are to you, the more skeptical you should be about their positive answers.
- Starbucks test: Ask a random person at Starbucks (or elsewhere) to review your concept or product. Don't tell them it's yours. Offer to buy them a coffee in return.
- Online (and offline) communities: Indie Hackers, reddit, LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, you name it. Speak to your target market where they hang out (observing the rules of the group, of course). Ask for feedback. I see that some people have reported that an "Ask HN" post helped on Hacker News.
- Meetups: Go to meetups that your target customers would go to and get to know them. Show them the idea and get their feedback.
- Conduct surveys with your email list: If you've got an email list, send a survey out to whatever segments closely resemble your target customers. Ask them questions that will test your assumptions and hypotheses. Your questions will vary according to how far along you are in the process, but be specific and try not to lead the respondents. It may not seem like it, but it's a good thing if their responses crush your idea.
- Conduct polls with your following: You can do this on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., and it can give you very valuable data. Keep in mind, though, that respondents on social media may not be part of your target market.
- Wherever you see an opportunity, reach out: @cara says she tested ideas by reaching out to people who complained about competitors' products on Twitter. All it took was a message with a few quick questions, and maybe a followup with a longer question if they responded.
- Conduct formal interviews: This is one of the main pieces of advice I've found in my research, and it's connected to each of the other points in this section. Whether it's existing customers, an email list, or random people, sitting down with target customers can be a big advantage. Remember: Don't pitch. Talk about their life (not the idea). Talk about the past (not the future). Gather facts and commitments, not compliments. Be specific. And have 20 conversations with 1 type of customer, not 1 conversation with 20 types of customers. Those tips are from The Mom Test. And here are a few pointers based on the book.
Ways to validate: Getting commitments
This is where the rubber really meets the road. It will give you the most accurate information by far, but it does take a little more work, which is why I'm saving it for last. The only way to truly know whether your idea is viable is to let the market decide — with money.
- Waitlist: If people are willing to sign up for your waitlist, they may be willing to purchase your product in the end. Especially if you're using the wait to build anticipation. Create a landing page with email capture, then get the word out. The more you have to show for the concept, the better, but people have done this with as little as a description. Putting some money into Google Ads can be a good way to get some traffic and test your hypotheses.
- Presales: Sweet, sweet presales. Getting a presale is true validation because they are giving you money, which could be an indication that others will as well. Same drill as the waitlist — put together a landing page, this time with purchase functionality, and then promote it like crazy. It can be helpful to have a clickable prototype at this stage. Tools likes Marvel can help with that. Luckily, it doesn't need to be an MVP. @semy managed to get five presales (and 400 signups) with a video that just showed basic wireframes.
- Crowdfunding: Technically, this is a type of presales but it's worth mentioning on its own. There lots of options for this, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
- Launch sites: "Launching" on sites like Product Hunt and BetaList can be a big help in finding late-stage validation. And it can work for early-stage validation too — @Grendorf managed to get a few hundred signups within a week from Product Hunt with only a landing page.
- Sales: True validation means making sales in the marketplace, at a level that can sustain your business. Of course, you'll need at least an MVP at this stage.
And the process continues even after the payments start rolling in. Keep gathering feedback, optimizing, and validating new features.
Some market validation tools
And in case you're interested, here a few validation tools that I found along the way.
- ProductValidator: A free service where you enter a few keywords about your idea and it spits out information about how the market is responding to ideas like yours.
- Startup Builder: Guided templates and resources to help you validate quickly.
- Customer Discovery: Connects you with early adopters so that you can interview them and learn.
- AreYouInterested: A free platform that helps you think up, validate, and discuss business ideas.
- UserTesting: Instead of interviewing users, this tool records user reactions to your product.
- PingPong: A tool that schedules calls with people who will check out your product.
- Javelin: A suite of products designed to help founders create a landing page, run Google Ads to it, and pull relevant data from it to validate your product.
Results aren't validating your product?
No problem. Pivot. Then pivot again until you find market validation
Good luck! 💪