An insanely easy way to quickly validate a product

Without an audience, money, or customer base

One of the first projects when starting a new venture is validating your idea in the marketplace.

This means you make sure there is a customer who wants what you have BEFORE doing all the work and investment to build it out.

It’s a well-known step in the process. Still, most people (even those with multiple successful launches), have a hard time articulating a process for it.

The reason is simple. A product’s validity is not absolute. It is dependent on relative factors, both internal and external.

Some of those factors might be:

  1. Is there a similar solution that’s preferable to the potential customers?

  2. Are there direct competitors in a better position than I to sell this solution?

  3. Is the problem big enough that I can make a profit selling a solution?

  4. Do I have other opportunities that are more “valid” than this one?

Only after understanding that validation is relative both to what is available to the market, and what is available to us, can we begin to validate ideas wholly.

Here is a 4 step process that you can use to validate either a product you already have or one you are thinking about building.

Step 1: Identify the use case and customer

The first step to validating a product is thinking through who will use this product and what will they use it for.

This step should never be skipped because without it we are aimless in our approach.

Imagine you were building a software product for accountants, and to test whether or not they wanted it, you put flyers out at a local gas station.

Although there may be accountants that go to that gas station, it’s not likely that the approach will be effective.

In other words, the data that comes back from your campaign will tell you there is no room for your idea in the market.

The reality is there might be, but the experiment was ineffectual.

That is why the first step must be brainstorming use cases and target audiences. And preferably you identify more than one to test with.

If you want to know how I approach finding my target audience, I recommend this post.

Step 2: Turn the problem into the pitch

Once you identified your potential customers. The next question is what are you going to say to them?

This might seem easy, but that’s not exactly the case. “Hey, do you want to try this software?” isn’t really a compelling approach to people who are generally always getting pitches.

For any marketing campaign, we first need to understand what is going to resonate with our audience and compel them to solve their problem with our solution.

And to do that, we need to understand what their problem is. Fortunately, there is a simple process we can use.

It all starts with our target’s dream outcome. For our accountants, it may be that they want to increase their number of clients while decreasing their work. The dream outcome is usually something in that genre.

Then we want to think through all of the obstacles that stand in the way of our accountants achieving their dream outcome. Here are some examples:

  • As their client book grows, they will become disorganized and be able to handle less

  • They don’t have a method of putting processes in place so they can begin to automate and delegate their workload

  • To serve more clients their operational expenses might grow, reducing profits when the goal is to increase them.

For your own project, don’t stop at three bullets. Get as many of their problems down as you possibly can.

Then look for the problems/obstacles that your new product idea has a direct hand in solving.

Next to those problems, write out how your product solves those problems.

Once you have the solution side of your problem/solution matrix you want to write it out in the present tense. In other words, you want to write them out as benefits.

“Be organized enough to handle twice the client load with zero less time.”

“Move your business from a one-man show to a well-oiled money-making machine.”

“Increase your business’s revenue without increasing your expenses.”

Keep these notes handy, because they basically make up a messaging guideline that you can use when having conversations with potential customers.

Step 3: Start with the simplest form of marketing

Now that we know who we are targeting and what our messaging would be, it’s time to actually put our idea to the test.

There are a lot of different methods to validate ideas. There are literally limitless creative ways to get the job done. Yet I find the obvious solutions to be the best ones.

I recommend creating a list of prospects and doing cold outreach. This way you don’t need to build an audience, pay for ads, do SEO, or another grueling long-tail form of marketing. Just get straight to the point.

Find where your audience “hangs out” and hit them there. That might be LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Email, or some other channel.

Remember, whether or not a business idea is “valid” is relative to other options and opportunities. So we want to be methodical in how we do our outreach, so we can compare our results.

You will run tests against other ideas. So the tests need to be uniform. For example, you’ll want to pick 100 people within your target audience and hit them with the same messaging.

It’s better to use a simple outreach message like:

“Hey (Name). I’m building software that helps with (Problem). I’m just reaching out to see if this is an actual problem that you have, or if I should drop this and move on to something else. What do you think? Would this be helpful to you and your business?”

Notice that I’m just asking them straight up to validate this idea for me.

From the responses, you’ll get a pretty clear idea of whether or not your target audience actually cares about solving this problem.

But a bunch of yeses is not necessarily validation. From there I would ask all the people who say yes to take another step down your funnel. If you have a waitlist ask them to join, if you already have an MVP ask them to try.

You can at this point just ask them to purchase your product to get real conversion data, but if you don’t have that option available yet because you are testing multiple ideas before choosing one, joining a waitlist is decent enough primary data.

Step 4: Rinse and repeat a few times

Next, you want to do this over again with:

  1. Different product ideas

  2. Different use cases and audiences for the same idea

Because you are testing multiple ideas and multiple audiences, it’s important to keep the experiments small and simple.

I highly recommend using a similar message structure the whole time. Otherwise, you may poison your data.

What we are trying to accomplish is determining what is the best product idea for you to pursue. If you are changing the messaging around then you might merely find that your marketing was better for one idea compared to another. The idea with the worse marketing might have actually been the product with the better product market fit.

All we want to test for is product validation. So make sure the experiments are controlled to only test for that particular metric.

The metric that you analyze should be the same across each test.

If you are testing for how many people join your waitlist, make sure you are using a waitlist for each experiment.

If you are testing based on positive responses, then continue to test based on that.

Assuming you are tracking your inputs and outputs correctly, I recommend a simple spreadsheet, you’ll see out of 100 outreaches which idea resulted in the most positive results.

For Idea 1 maybe 8 out of 100 joined your waitlist. That in itself is not a bad performance.

But if you found that for idea 2, 12 out of 100 people joined your waitlist, then the second idea is 50% better than the first.

The same goes for the different use cases and target audiences.

Conclusion

One of the main reasons it is hard for people to articulate a method for testing validating products is that they see validation as a binary and not a relative score.

But ideas or products are not good or bad. They are good or bad in relation to the ideas or products they are competing with.

Once you understand that you can move from thinking, “This idea is valid” to “This idea is better than all the other ones I have.”

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