Every freelancer needs to offer a service, test it in the market, get feedback, and shape that service to better serve their audience. It's similar when launching new software or a fresh product. Entrepreneurs need to get their product out there, get their audience working with it, get feedback, test, and pull the results together.
You need real, hands-on feedback. This feedback helps you make better business decisions.
In this article, we look at the process of idea validation: how to keep it lean, how to get your idea out there, and how to get feedback. This is an effective business approach that will improve your releases and help you build compelling solutions.
Let's first take a step back and get a feel for idea validation from the bottom-up.
What is Idea Validation?
Idea validation is the process of testing and validating your idea prior to launching your product, service, or website. It is akin to the research and development process that many corporations use to test their ideas before they are released to the general public.
Idea validation can involve anything from information-gathering interviews to landing pages to physical prototypes. The entire purpose is to expose the idea to your target audience before you build and release the final product.
Idea validation is an integral aspect of a lean startup, which is a methodology for startups; it involves creating a minimum viable product (MVP) before running out of money or resources.
A lean startup will create prototypes quickly to see if there is enough interest in the idea to pursue it and if so, they will continue to go through different iterations of the MVP until they have found one that works. The great thing about this is that you can use this process to test your idea before you make a significant investment.
Why is Idea Validation Necessary?
In short, idea validation is not a requirement to starting a business online or offline, but it has the potential to save you time and money, as well as generate interest in your idea.
Since you are testing your idea, you need to expose it to the marketplace.
One of the mistakes that startups make is working on an idea that no one is really interested in. Idea validation can save you time; you can get a good feel as to whether your idea appeals to a lot of people based on the number of inquiries you receive. It can also save you a lot of money. The process will tell you whether or not you should pay to have the item created in the first place. For example, you could end up paying a developer thousands of dollars to build features that your customers may not even need or use.
Since you are testing your idea, you need to expose it to the marketplace. A mistake that a lot of beginning entrepreneurs make is thinking that they need to protect their idea until it has been released. The truth is that you should present your idea to as many people as possible to see if there is even enough interest to build it in the first place.
The sooner you know whether your idea is worth pursuing, the better. Obviously, you should not give out proprietary information about your product or service, but just testing the waters should be fine. Everyone will find out what you have built eventually when it launches, so there is not much of a point in hiding it. Also, few ideas are truly unique in concept, rather they are unique in implementation.
Testing your idea may even help you promote your business early on because you are reaching out to people and building a potential customer base. Basically, idea validation is like a form of risk mitigation to test and tweak your idea before you invest a significant amount of time, money, or resources behind building something.
How to Handle a Failed Test
The worst thing that happens from testing your idea early is that no one shows any interest and you decide to proceed with a different project.
Do take care to make sure you have invested some time in developing one unique feature of your product before testing though. Don't get so wrapped up in the MVP process that you lose sight of what uniquely sets your product apart. The idea is to test early and test often, but you do need to have something test-worthy as well.
Ideally your test is successful, and will prompt you to continue with adding more features, and continue testing. Failure of a minimal viable idea can happen though. It's best to be mentally prepared for that. Keep in mind, it's better that an idea fail quickly than to linger on—draining time and resources.
Devesh Dwivedi, a Canadian based serial entrepreneur and startup coach, explains that failure should be an educational experience, rather than a permanent setback. “The whole purpose of idea validation is to fail smarter and faster to leverage those failures to build a better business out of that idea.”
Even if you do fail initially, Devesh explains that “the idea has much higher probability to succeed now that most of the potential failures have been dealt with already. Spending a few hundred bucks on building a quick prototype is better and cheaper than starting a full blown business only with an idea." You don't want to "learn those lessons in a costlier fashion and worse if that failure costs you your life savings.”
If your idea fails, you can invest in pivoting, rather than digging deeper into an idea that isn't resonating with your audience. Often, this process isn't a matter of success or failure, but a process of uncovering issues and then working to iterate improvements.
How to Conduct Idea Validation
Idea validation is fairly easy to do, but it will require some effort on your part. Here are a few ways to get started testing your idea.
Step 1. Create a Landing Page
If you are building an online startup or even a physical product, you can always start with a simple landing page. The landing page only needs to introduce your concept and have a way to collect email addresses. At best, you'll need to have a logo and some copywriting to make it shine, but it is okay if it looks simple in the beginning. You may want to purchase a domain name to show that you are serious, but you do not have to.
You can build simple landing pages in under an hour using these services because they have several quality templates to choose from.
Instead of using a traditional web host for this, you can use websites like Instapage, Kickoff, or Landerapp that are designed to host landing pages specifically. You can build simple landing pages in under an hour using these services because they have several quality templates to choose from. Furthermore, they can automatically link to an email marketing service like MailChimp or Aweber. They have built in analytics, and a few other helpful features.
This landing page can be used to gather email addresses or it can even host the MVP. You can actually start the business and operate from the landing page if you consider the fact that your clients do not have to be serviced by code. In lieu of hiring a developer, you can do everything manually until your idea has been validated sufficiently. You can service your clients by yourself or you can outsource the work to a virtual assistant from Odesk, Elance, or a code expert on Microlancer.
Even if you were to have your website coded, it may not be the best choice initially because chances are that your project will be slightly different from what you had originally anticipated. As you continue to interact with your clients, you may realize that you need to tweak your idea in order to meet their needs. It will be much easier to make changes to your project if you do everything manually until you have solidified your idea.
Step 2. Post Your Landing Page on Craigslist
Once you have posted your landing page, you can start promoting it online to collect email addresses and see how people respond to it. You can start presenting your idea by creating a simple post on Craigslist to reach your target audience.
Try listing it in a couple of different cities on Craigslist and provide a link to your landing page to sign up for your mailing list and receive early access. In addition to Craigslist, you can also list it on Hoobly, Adoos, Oodle, or Backpage.
Step 3. Promoting Your Landing Page
Once you have posted your landing page, you can begin sharing it via social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. You can also create Facebook advertisements that target your demographic and test the idea in that way.
Since you have a landing page ready, you can start reaching out to blogs that cover your industry or startups in general. Contact them to share your project idea or potentially review your website. You can also find interested parties on forums related to your niche if you create a post about your project.
Step 4. Conduct Informational Interviews
Another way to validate your idea is to actually go out and conduct informational interviews.
An informational interview is just a way to get to know your potential customers by asking them questions about their problems and whether or not they would be willing to pay for your solution.
It is recommended that you do informational interviews in person because you will be able to see their facial expressions and body language...
It is recommended that you do informational interviews in person because you will be able to see their facial expressions and body language, but it can be done over the phone or via Skype. You can find interview subjects by looking at your own personal network or through Craiglist, online forums, social media, websites, or any other place you can find potential clients for your business.
During the interview, you should explain what your project is about and then ask if it is something they would use or pay for. Be sure to ask open-ended questions because you are really looking for information about their underlying motivations and problems, not just one word answers.
Ideally, you should try to do as many interviews as possible, but you can do ten to twenty to get started. It is best to speak to as many people as possible because you will often get mixed responses until you start speaking to enough people to notice a pattern.
Omar Zenhom is one of the cofounders of Business Republic, a New York City based startup that provides a range of services for small businesses such as photography, graphic design, and video. He recently completed a series of informational interviews with local small businesses to test out their new headlines and copy for their website.
Omar and his cofounder, Nicole Baldinu, physically visited a number of local businesses including a pizza shop, a tannery, and a yoga studio to get feedback on their headlines. With an iPad in hand, they went go through a list of headlines and asked people how they felt about them.
“People tend to ask their friends or their family, but they are people that would never actually buy something that they are selling”, explained Omar. “We were not investing enough time identifying why instead of what”, said Omar. “Instead of pretending you are the audience, ask somebody that would actually buy it.” They learned from both the verbal explanation as well as the body language that accompanied it.
He favors in person interviews because, “You do get a lot more through body language and they'll be able to ask you questions really quickly.” Ultimately, they selected “Build a Business That Can't Be Ignored” as their new headline based on the results of their informational interviews and it has resonated well their audience. You can see there new branding message applied boldly on their website.
The Post Idea Validation Process
After you have taken time out to do this process, you should have a good idea about whether or not your idea is worth pursuing. If you have received a lot of interest, then you can proceed with your original plan, but usually that is not the case.
By the end of the idea validation process, you will probably realize that you need to tweak your project before you release it. In that case, you should pool all of your data and use it to make a new and improved prototype, business model, or product. However, if you notice that there is very little interest in your project, then you have to make a choice on how to proceed: dig-in, pivot, or move on to a new idea.
The thing about idea validation is that it is not foolproof. The truth is that sometimes an idea is still worth pursuing even if there is not a whole lot of interest in your idea. Sometimes an idea may generate a lot of interest, but not perform as well as expected. Idea validation does not eliminate the risk of starting a business, but it can help reduce that risk if you have a better understanding of the situation. It gives you a whole lot of relevant data to help you make an educated business decisions with.
It is up to you to interpret the response and discern whether or not your project is worth pursuing.