Here are the 6 lessons I learned on how to validate an idea

July 12, 2017

One of the main concerns for people who built or are currently building a startup is dealing with customer development and idea validation. These are considered one of the main reasons for the failure of many startups, not only because is mostly done wrong but also because, in many cases, is not even done at all.

However, talking to customers shouldn’t be a setback, on the contrary, it allows you to discover not only which things you should be improving and redefining in your idea but also, and most importantly, if your idea is worth the money and time you were going to invest in it.

 1.Understand who are your potential customers

The first step to take is thinking about what kind of people are you going to reach out to, and understand who will be giving you useful information for the type of product you want to build. Think not only about which demographic you are going to tackle but also where you are going to find these people.

 2. Hear what’s on their minds instead of planting ideas on their heads

After you do this, you start talking to them, actually, in reality, you start listening to what they have to say. One crucial mistake that startup founders usually make is pitching their idea instead of asking questions about the habits of their potential customers. You want to hear what’s on their minds not plant ideas in their heads. You should be trying to find out about their lives, how that particular person uses similar products, some problems that they notice, what could make their life easier, etc.

 3.Don’t talk about your product

Keep in mind that you’re not fishing for compliments or seeking validation for your product, you’re trying to understand which problems the customers may have and whether your product solves those problems.

Because of this, you should never talk about your product or present specific features in the interviews, especially in the early stages of the startup. Questions like “What do you think?”, “Is it a good idea?” or “Would you buy it?” should never be mentioned either since they only are going to give you useless responses, that should only generate bad data.

Bad data includes false demonstration of enthusiasm (people will deliberately lie to not hurt your feelings), opinions (stick to facts and the consumer experiences), general claims (“I always”, “I never”, “I would” …) or empty promises of the future (people are usually optimistic about what they say they are going to do in the future, normally they never do it.).

A common mistake is to interpret negative feedback or non-enthusiastic responses as useless or as bad news, although this response may hurt your ego, they can, actually, been more helpful than a “I love the idea”. Responses like this allow the opportunity to reevaluate your idea, maybe it’s not as needed or groundbreaking as you initially thought. These responses can show that maybe, all that money and time you were going to spend making your idea come true can be applied in another idea or in a different path.

 4.Fully understand your customer’s problem

When someone on the interview mentions a problem, especially a problem that your startup solves, don’t just take note and move on. You need to understand exactly what the problem is and how much this problem affects the person in question. Ask what are the implications of the problem, in which way it makes their life harder. Often the consequence that this problem has on a person’s life or work are minimal, which means it is, probably, not something worth to delve into. Another way to understand the impact of a problem is by asking in what ways the person has tried to solve it, if the answer is “in no way at all” it’s, probably, because this problem is not big enough or important enough for the person, since she didn’t even try to google the solution. If this is this case, you probably shouldn’t be trying to create something around solving it. If they don’t look for existent solutions, they are most certainty not going to look for yours.

 5.Always filter the suggestions you’re given

In the more later stages of your startups, when you already launch the product, if a customer gives you ideas about improving a certain aspect or suggest the creation of a specific feature for your product, again, don’t just take note and rush to implement that idea. Ask questions, try to understand how this change would help your customers, how much would your customer use it and how it would improve the product for them.

 6.Avoid emails and surveys at all costs

Finally, avoid emails and surveys when doing the interviews, these are static, and even if they provide you with some answers, they don’t give you the chance to question the answers or ask the interviewee to elaborate on what they just said. In-person interviews or via skype are much more effective. A good idea is to record the interviewers, this will make taking notes, unnecessary, allow you to focus 100 percent on what the person is saying and share the data with your co-founders and staff without any changes to the content.

When you start to hear the same answers over and over again, that’s a good indicator that you probably, have everything you need and you should move on to analyse the data that you have collected.

These are only a few basics notion to deal with customer development, for a more extensive development of the topic read “The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick (a book that every entrepreneur should read) and/or check the “How to start a startup” lectures on YouTube (especially lecture 16).