If you are reading this article you have presumably shown interest in startups and possibly you even have or had one or two, but unquestionably will have some product idea in the future. We at ScaleUP, aspire to support all of you, future innovators and entrepreneurs with ideas in how to approach startups and how to validate that you are developing something worth developing.
Well, with startups, it’s all about making sure that our customers are happy and that we are satisfying their needs or eliminating problems with the product that we are building. So, why would we lose time in developing something that our users don’t need?
The idea is a concept, it is something that we have envisioned, but at its initial stage, it is just – an abstraction. By following these short steps, we can assemble evidence and validate that the idea is worth investing our time and money.
So, you have an idea? Great, let’s do some brainstorming with Lean Canvas
We have crossed the time of forming big project plans concerning something that we don’t comprehend or have no experience with. Instead of this, we should address the matter with some verified method of brainstorming the principal concepts of our envisioned future products. For the aforementioned, we can use either Lean Canvas (that we at ScaleUP favor) or Business Model Canvas.
This way, after brainstorming we should be able to record all the essential aspects of our idea. We would have the hypothesis of the problems that we want to resolve, the envisioned solutions that we want to produce, customer segments that we want to approach, etc. The important tip here is that we need to remember that our Lean Canvas is constantly evolving as we acquire more and more knowledge regarding our product. We need to update it with this new information regarding any of the topics introduced in the Lean Canvas.
It is essential to involve the entire team (if we already have one) in the brainstorming of the fundamental concepts of the Lean Canvas since we might acquire diverse and potentially better ideas on how to approach specific thoughts around the Lean Canvas. In addition to this, we should schedule a recurring meeting where we would go over the content of our Lean Canvas to verify if we managed to prove or disprove some of the concepts or ideas.
We have essential concepts about the idea, now it’s time to validate the problem
There are many methods to get the idea for the product. We can get the idea unexpectedly while we are doing something we do every day, or we may take some distinct customer segment from a specific industry and brainstorm potential ideas that would bring benefit to those users. No matter how we get the idea, we need to validate if there is any problem to be resolved in the first place. The goal here is to figure out a way on how to approach the potential users (that relate to the previously specified customer segment) of our brand-new product-in-the-making to get the information if there is some problem to be solved. It is a lot easier to build a successful product if we have identified potential problems that our prospective customers already encounter.
To acquire the information we need, we should first figure out the way to collect the data. In this article, we are going to suggest two common methods of validation – face-to-face interviews and surveys.
A favored way of doing this is face-to-face interviews with potential customers. Why? Well, with these kinds of interviews we can get all sorts of non-verbal information as well. We can get a broader picture of our users, or we might even end up with a new idea for a new product. Never be afraid of pivoting in a new direction, especially if you see the opportunity in it that was validated by potential users.
Remember to focus the discussion with users on the suggested problems that they are facing, that we want to solve with our product. We should talk about past events, about their everyday actions, and try to validate that problem space that we need to proceed to actual solution building. Check their potential frustrations during some questions, investigate them additionally even though it was not in our original ‘interview scenario’, as we might uncover some vital information. We need to try to avoid asking them about forthcoming actions, questions like – “What would you do if..” rarely gives us a precise response, which is understandable, how can anyone predict with a high level of certainty how they would respond in some specific future situation. There are always factors that they cannot count on. Rather than this, we should talk about their experience, preceding situations that they experienced, this is something that is verified and is a definite truth that we can utilize when validating a problem. If you need more guidance here, there is a great book that we highly recommend – ‘The Mom Test’ by Rob Fitzpatrick that has comprehensive information on how to talk to your customers.
Not all of us can arrange face-to-face interviews with our potential customers. This is why we often need to employ a different approach or technique for collecting customer feedback.
The face-to-face is the best method to get the feedback, due to the non-verbal information that we can obtain. However, in the absence of opportunity for creating face-to-face interviews, we can approach alternative techniques of gathering feedback, like a survey. Surveys can be difficult and usually, users are not fond of filling surveys because they are time-consuming and frequently with a lot of questions where users at some point simply start answering questions instantly without giving it actual attention. This might diminish the exactness of the obtained information, so it is necessary to keep them short and simple and straight to the point.
One of the methods to get accurate answers is to remunerate a user for taking a survey. This will increase the consciousness and clarity of the answers that they present in the survey as they know that they will be rewarded for their work. Nevertheless, not all of us have the resources to spend on a survey, so we might end up with inviting our Social Media audience to fill out the survey, or even only our friends and family, in which case we should not implicate to them that it is our idea, rather than that, we require their honest opinion on a subject, as we need an objective opinion.
As stated previously, we need to keep the survey short, up to ten questions with some multiple choice answers to keep the user focused on the survey. Furthermore, it would be good to divide the survey into two or three pages, so that users perceive the sense of accomplishment with every subsequent page, possibly even with some neat messages, like the announcement that there is the only couple of questions remaining. Whatever method we utilize – the ones listed here or any other, if we succeed to validate that the problem persists with our customers then we can proceed to the solution validation. However, if we discover that our customers don’t have any problems in the area we intended to improve then we need to decide to drop the idea and be comfortable because we didn’t waste a lot of time pursuing the idea that is not attractive for our customer segment. Sometimes, during the problem validation, we might end up with some other ideas, and then we might decide to pivot and pursue that new idea in which case we need to continue with testing the potential solution with that idea.
So, the problem is there, let’s then proceed to solution validation
If we managed to validate that our future customers indeed have a problem that needs to be solved or a need to be met, then we need to advance to the next phase – solution validation. At this point, we have confirmation that the problem exists and we need now to test whether the solution we envisioned is the product that is going to remove the problems that our customers face. We can do this in several ways.
This method can be used to validate the solution space as well. We can invite potential users that we discoursed with when we validated the problem, this way we are producing the first group of early adopters of our product by keeping them engaged in product development. Furthermore, down the line, we can involve these users in determining the features to be developed when we start upgrading the product and releasing new versions.
We can do two types of face-to-face interviews from the perspective of explaining the solution to the potential users of our products. The first type is to try to describe the solution to our potential users and get feedback on that. While this is a reasonably viable choice, it is not entirely reliable, considering that it is difficult to describe solutions in detail and get accurate feedback. The second type and far more effective is when we have some prototype to present.
Sharing the prototype
Prototyping can potentially be intervened with solution space validation as well. It involves constructing a prototype representing the core functionality of the product that could be shared with potential early adopters. This is a great method for potential users to get a grasp on how the real product would look like and could provide us with honest and real feedback. There are a couple of ways for a founder to create a prototype and it highly depends on what is the purpose or what we want to achieve with the prototype.
This kind of prototype is the best fit if the founder has a more modest budget. This kind of prototype can be essentially used for showing the potential solution to our customers or potential early adopters. This prototype is best done by the founder themselves and it covers only the core functionality that will be shown to our customers to get their feedback and validate the solution. There are many tools out there that enable founders to easily create simple wireframes that would represent the core functionalities of the product.
The second kind of prototype is creating a clickable prototype that will more clearly show the most important features that our product is going to offer. This kind of prototype can be used to be shown to our customers to get their feedback and solution validation, but to potential angel investors as well to showcase our idea and even to our engineers to convey the product vision. This would usually only work if the idea itself is really strong and if it is backed with market research that will validate that there is a clear product-market fit for our product.
After we validated the solution and we have confirmed with our users that our product is indeed the solution for their problems we can reiterate the MVP design until our users are satisfied and start with the development of the MVP version.
Finally, it’s time to define the MVP
MVP (Minimum Viable Product) can be many things, but in our case we consider MVP to be an actual product built with core functionalities, that we will gradually upgrade with additional features.
In this sense, we should proceed with building the MVP only after we have successfully validated both the problem and solution space. This would mean that at this point we already have identified our customer segment, we have some potential early adopters of our product, we have validated the problem that our customers are facing and we have also validated that our solution will indeed help our customers solve their problems. However, even at this stage, we are not completely sure that our product will be a certain success, so we should define our product with the minimum set of functionalities that can be developed in a relatively short time. Our goal at this point is to get our product to the market as soon as possible by keeping the main functionalities of our product (functionality that will remove the problems of our customers).
First, we should work to create the design based on the prototype that we presented to our customers. We need to include the engineering team in this step so we make sure that the design is viable, and that engineers are competent in developing the product. After the design is created we should ideally test it with our customers to make sure that the product is usable by our customers and valuable, indicating that it will produce value to our customers. And when the design is built that provides all of the above, then we can proceed with the actual development of the product. Although there is no distinct recipe for building successful products, by following these simple steps above we are maximizing our chances of building a product that is going to be successful.
Steps that are shown above not only work for validating ideas, but they also can be applied for developing new versions of our products as well, since, ideally, we need to test every release with our customers prior we start the actual development of any new upgrade or release of our products.
We at ScaleUP help our clients and partners with all of these steps during our development as well, since we want to make sure that all of the development efforts are not just wasting resources, but they are bringing value. So feel free to reach out to us, and we will be sure to assist in any way possible. We have just made it even easier to contact us through this – simple survey.