"Validation" is the final stage of the "meat grinder" that we use to find out which ideas we should execute on. At the previous stages we collected lots of ideas and rated their potential. This way we ended up with a short list of ideas that we would like to pursue further. The goal is now to check if our assumptions hold up in a real-world test. The notion "meat grinder" in this context is due do Tyler Tringas.
"If you build it they will come" is one of the most common entrepreneurial fallacies. Probably millions of people have wasted years of their live developing products only to discover that no one wants to buy it. The key to avoiding this kind of worst-case-scenario is doing (almost) the opposite: let them come before you build it.
Product Idea Validation Methods
There are five popular methods to validate product ideas: Let me know if you know any method to validate product ideas that is not listed here!
- The minimum viable product (MVP). The idea is to build and sell a minimum viable version of the product. Hence instead of spending months or even years building your product in "stealth mode", you launch it as early as possible. This allows you to validate relatively quickly if there are people who are willing to pay money for it.
- Do things that don't scale. Oftentimes it still takes a lot of time to build a minimum version of the product that provides enough value for the customer. A great alternative is to start by doing a lot of things manually. While this approach won't scale, it's great to test the waters. For example, when you considering selling "Software as a Service", you can start by selling just the service (Service as a Service"). Similarly, instead of selling an info product or course you could try to sell coaching sessions first to validate the demand. This method allows you to gather lots of valuable feedback on what exactly people are looking for. And it's great to get this feedback early on because it's much easier to course-correct on a service than on a software solution. Moreover, while you offer the service you can start bits of software to support your service. Similarly, if you're doing coaching sessions you can write down protcolls that you use during the sessions and later include in your info product. This way you can gradually build the product you have in mind without having to worry about things like security, scalability, and related issues since you're just using it yourself. A great example is what Drip did when they launched. Since their software initially missed a lot of essential features, they made up for it by providing an open line to experienced email marketers.
- The Landing Page MVP. An even quicker validation method is to start with just a landing page without any functional product. On the landing page you describe in detail what problem your product solves, what features it has, and how much it costs. Then you add a "Buy Now" or "Subscribe Now" button and send targeted traffic (~100-200 people, typically via paid ads) to the site. When people click on the "Buy Now" button you show a message that the product is not yet ready. You then offer that they can enter their email address to get notified when it goes live. It is essential that you record how often people click on the "Buy Now" button by using a tool like Google Analytics. The data you gather this way allows you to test if there is real demand for your product and can save you months of development time on a product no one wants. Moreover, it's essential to include a "Buy Now" button instead of a "Subscribe to get notified" form on the landing page. To quote Rob Walling: "The only way you know if someone would try or buy your product is if they think they are really trying or buying it when they visit your sales site." Using a tool like, for example, Carrd, a landing page can be build in a single day. A company that used this method succesfully is Buffer. If you want to make sure that people will really pay for your product, you could ask them to pre-order the product at a discounted price. This is how Kettle & Fire got started.
- Crowdfunding. A related, great way to validate if there are enough paying customers for your product is to start a crowdfunding campaign. Crowdfunding is market-demand validation par excellence. Customers pay real money for a product that not yet exists. After a successful crowdfunding campaign you can be quite certain that there's a market for your product.
- The Article MVP. Before you spend any time building your product, it makes a lot of sense to verify if you're able to connect to the target audience. A great way to do this is by writing at least one article on a topic that is related to your product. If you're unable to drum up interest for something free that provides value to your market, chances are slim that you'll do better with something that costs money. Moreover, if you're unable to write an article about the subject you're probably not the right person who should solve it. But the biggest benefit of this method is that writing about a topic will help you to get some grasp of the corresponding idea maze. Moreover, if you're able to attract a large readership, it will be much easier to sell your product later. A great example of a company that used this strategy is Ghost
"Do you want to earn a living as a programmer? Great. Google is hiring. Do you want to run a software business? Assume that you're going to either get really good at writing or become the employer of someone who is, because writing is about as good as software code for capturing an ephemeral idea in a reproducible artifact, but vastly easier to iterate on." - Patrick McKenzie
Each method can work and it's entirely up to you which one you want to use. However, it usually makes a lot of sense to experiment with landing pages and articles before commiting to a fully-fledged MVP. In some these methods, they can be seen as pre-validation methods.
"If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late." - Reid Hoffman
An important point worth pointing out is that asking people if they would be interested in your product is not a proper validation method. Many people will say yes just to be nice even though they have no intention of ever buying it. An amazing book dedicated solely to this kind of issue is The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick.