Looking for the “3 easy steps to validate your new business idea”? Turn around, this article isn’t for you. Validating an idea isn’t easy. In fact, it’s one of the biggest things we struggled with when building our own products.
We started the way most people do. We put together a landing page with an email signup form and drove traffic to it. The fastest way to do this is with Google Adwords. In our case, we were broke, so we did it by tweeting…a lot.
Adora Cheung illustrated this point with a simple graph in a talk at Stanford. The first line, in black, shows the usefulness of feedback for a free product. The second line, in green, shows the usefulness of feedback when you’re asking customers for money. It ranges from your mom who cares about you a lot to random strangers who don’t care about you at all.
If you’re not asking for money, random strangers won’t give you very useful feedback. They don’t have anything on the line, so their feedback is likely to be inaccurate.. If you are asking for money, they’ll give you perfect feedback. They don’t care about you — they care about the value they get for their money. And they’re not going to pay you unless you’re solving their problems. Your mom will never give you super useful feedback.
To get meaningful feedback on your idea before you are ready to ask people for money, you have to talk to potential customers. Of course, how you talk to them matters a lot.
But before we talk about that, we need to discuss separating your idea from the problem you’re trying to solve. Most clients come to us with an idea for an app. An app is a potential solution to a problem. It doesn’t matter how great the solution is if the problem isn’t painful enough to make people open their wallets.
Instead of talking about cool ideas, we’re going to focus on validating that the problem is there. This problem should be your focus above all else. Write it on your ceiling above your bed and stare at it as you fall asleep each night. At the end of the day, no one cares about your idea, they care that you’re solving their problems. If you can find a painful problem that a lot of people are facing, you have a decent chance of stumbling your way to a solution.
Now it’s time to go talk to potential customers. In-person interviews are best, so sometimes you have to get creative. I could go stand beside a bike rack for a few hours on a work day and give people a $5 Starbucks gift card in exchange for talking to me. As another example, one of my friends working on a beer startup left business cards in bars with his phone number and elevator pitch.
But wait, remember that how you conduct these interviews matters more than almost anything else.
Don’t even mention your idea during the problem validation stage. Your first step is confirming that the problem actually exists. Getting a “no” might be painful now. But it’s a hell of a lot less painful than wasting months and thousands of dollars building the wrong thing.
Remember that this is a conversation, not a sales pitch. You do not want to convince people. You want to listen to and learn from them. And you want to begin to build relationships. These people could be your first customers!
So keep it light and conversational and don’t try to sell them.