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Forget about the fancy logo or the website that you’ve built. If you’ve not validated your business idea before launching a startup, the chances of survival are slim. According to CB Insight, 42% of startups failed because there are no market needs for their products, apps, or services.
It’s always easy to fall into the trap of working on your ideas in a silo and believe that you have a winning product ready for the market. However, most entrepreneurs who failed to validate their ideas have their startup dreams sliding into the abyss.
Before you even started writing a single line of the app, you need to ask probing questions:
- What problems are you trying to solve?
- Can your app help your customers achieve their Jobs-to-be-Done?
- Are you targeting the right audience with the right problems?
Otherwise, it could be a waste of time and investment when you realized that there is no demand for your product.
At Uptech, idea validation has always been an important part of our process. In this article, I’ll show you what we’re doing behind the scene before we start writing the first line of code.
What Is Idea Validation And Why It’s Important
One of the worst things to do when launching an app is to assume that users are going to love it. Tech startup founders can be stuck into a biased perspective of “build it and they’ll come” where they genuinely believe that they’ve got a winner in their hand.
Product idea validation is about seeking feedback from the target audience for whom the app solves their problems. In other words, will the users find it an attractive proposition to address the pain points that they’re facing?
The YCombinator has a resounding motto: “Make Something People Want”. This basically sums up the need to validate a product idea. I can assure you that validating ideas with the customers spare you many of the heartaches when the app is launched.
Key Steps Of Validating Your Idea
Using proven processes or discovery stage is handy when it comes to validating your product ideas. These are what we’ve practiced at Uptech.
- Conducting market research.
- Preparing proto personas.
- Creating a Customer Journey Map (CJM).
- Conducting user interviews.
- Creating and testing paper or digital prototypes.
- Using the Design Sprint.
If you’re just starting up your business, you’d better complete as many of the steps to get a more accurate report on the viability of your idea.
But often there is limited time, so skipping a few of them is also ok. (but better to avoid, of course). The worst is not doing anything at all.
Conducting Market Research
Market research is about determining the viability of your product ideas. It involves gathering information on the target demographics, specifically about the needs of the customers and how they are seeking the information to influence their buying decisions.
Conducting market research allows you to identify trends in the industries and the problems that customers are facing.
Besides customer validation, you’ll also need to conduct research on your competitors. For example, at Uptech, we studied our competitors’ apps to pinpoint their pros and cons.
We had an idea of a performance management platform in the summer of 2019. Before kicking off any development works, we decided to conduct thorough research on the market and competitors. We went through a list of similar performance management apps, including Lattice, 15Five, Impraise, and Small Improvements.
We spent time analyzing deterministic factors like position, size, target audience, value proposition, and the features of the apps. Not only that, we even went to the extent of scheduling demo calls with some of them to understand better how these companies communicate their value.
With all the data in place, we started the work on Plai, our own performance management software, with the assurance that we’re backed by validated data instead of mere guessworks.
If you can’t access your competitor’s app that you wanted to test, head over to their Help Center. Chances are, you’ll find some screenshots and explanatory videos that may be helpful.
Preparing Proto Personas
Proto personas are different from the standard personas used in characterizing the target audience of a product. While the latter involves extensive research, proto persona takes a more low fidelity and ad-hoc approach.
The process of creating proto personas is based on the intuition of the project members. In order to select the right individuals, you ought to ask, “What needs does our target audience have?”
As the proto personas are not built with research, they need to be updated when more tests are conducted to better represent the users of your products.
In our concept validation of Plai, we’ve identified the CEO of a New York-based startup, Peter, as our proto-persona. He has an immediate need to ensure that his team is aligned to common goals, engaged, motivated, and remains productive.
By using Peter as a proto-persona, we’ve developed Plai to ensure that his problems are solved. At each stage of the design, we ensure that our direction is aligned with Peter’s needs.
Creating A Customer Journey Map
How many steps does it take for a customer to complete a purchase? That’s one of the questions you ought to be asking if you’re building a product.
The map captures this journey from the user’s or customer’s point of view. Every touchpoint along the way is noted on the map. When you have a customer journey map in place, you get a better idea of how a customer would be using your product. Sometimes, it can be very different from your initial assumption.
But don’t forget to update your customer journey map while discovering your target audience.
Creating And Testing Paper Or Digital Prototypes
Prototypes help test the flow of the design. It allows you to have a better idea of how an app would look like way before it is completed. You can also gain feedback to facilitate immediate improvement in the design stage.
You can learn more about how to conduct usability testing in this article, where we described how we create and test paper and digital prototypes.
Conducting User Interviews
With all the analytics tools around, the best way to understand what users want is to talk to them directly. Whether it’s one-to-one or a group interview, you’ll be uncovering helpful information when you ask probing questions and listen to their responses.
Remember that the product’s goal is to solve the users’ problems. Therefore, user interviews should be held in the early stage of the customer validation process. A fruitful interview may take up to 45 minutes, and you ought to be speaking to the right person.
Ensure that your team is taking notes and recording the important points. Our team has a habit of summarizing the discussion into the pros and cons of the product. We used color-coded stickers (red for cons, green for pros, and blue for neutral comments) to segregate the feedback on our products.
The method ensures our team covers all the questions during the interview. I recommend conducting maximum 5 interviews per 1 day. We went with 6+ during the research for the Carbon Club project as we wanted to gain insights from more people. At the end of the day, the team was very tired. 6+ interviews in 1 day are too much, 5 are enough.
Using The Design Sprint
If you don’t want to spend too much time on customer validation, you should be using the Design Sprint.
The Design Sprint has been particularly helpful in solving major challenges, whether when creating new products or improving existing ones. It has proven to be a helpful solution when we were testing our hypothesis for Plai.
During the 4 days, we put up a cross-functional team, narrowed our focus area and assumptions, set clear goals, and built the first prototype website by the 3rd day. Then, we tested with a handful of users and gained valuable feedback that shed light on the next product directions.
After making adjustments based on the interviews, we launched the site for early signups. With just $100 spent on promotions, we’ve collected over 500 early signups. It shows how Design Sprint can help you quickly test and verify an idea in a short amount of time.
Based on the positive response, we knew that we’re heading in the right direction and thus proceed with developing the actual product. Design Sprint enabled us to avoid the pitfalls of making assumptions and backed our development with data from real users.
Here’s an in-depth case study of how Design Sprint works for us.
Taking an idea to life needs time and money. While entrepreneurs are firm believers in their own ideas, not subjecting them to validation exposes them to unnecessary risks.
We’ve proven that product idea validation can be conducted efficiently and provides an accurate indication of the early users’ adoption.
Don’t jump into development without backing the ideas with facts. If you have any doubts, talk to our team at Uptech on how to conduct a proper validation of your ideas.