We’ve all been there, a great idea that surely no one has ever had before. Something that will change the landscape of the industry. The next Uber, or Snapchat, or Dropbox. Once you’ve had that idea it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of it. But. Oh, and I really don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here but let’s take a step back. Because like it or not this great idea has got to become a real world success. This is the time we need to put some flesh and bone on the idea. The time to see if it’s really feasible. Really going to be the next Wix.
Everyone suggests validating a startup idea before actually committing to the product. In most cases people explain that you can build a validation page in no time. Just set it up quickly and start collecting data. And generally I agree, although I would suggest spending some time on defining a few things before I started building. The absolute minimum that I would suggest specifying before any building startups is described in this article.
But before we start:
What is validation
Let’s say you have an idea for a fantastic new product. Are you going to get up the next day and start bringing in designers, developers, knocking on investors’ doors? Probably not. What you’ll most likely do, and are probably also required to do by potential investors, is test your idea. You’ll need to collect the reactions of real life potential clients to see whether your idea is a relevant product or service for them. And unfortunately you can’t count on mum and dad’s reaction.
So what do you do? There are many ways to validate an idea and this depends on the industry and the idea itself. You can approach random people and talk to them, post a question on Reddit, build an interactive prototype to show people, build a POC (proof of concept) if the idea is technologically challenging, and so on. The list is long. In many cases though, you’ll find yourself with the need to build a simple website that explains your startup idea and allows potential customers to react by, for example, signing up to receive updates once your product becomes available.
This article focuses on the web page that you’ll build and, as the title says, how you can get the most out of it.
Telling the story right
This is crucial.
You have to understand that your idea is embedded in a story and you need to be able to tell it right so that your target audience will understand.
The problem is that you yourself are very familiar with your idea. You’ve thought about it for countless hours, in the shower, while driving and instead of listening to your loved ones. This means that you can’t go back to the point where your visitors will be, which is knowing absolutely nothing about the product or service.
So, step one is figuring out what’s the story that you are going to tell and how are you going to tell it so it will be clear enough.
Write down the idea in the clearest way you can. Try to follow a step by step path that answers the most basic questions, such as: What is the problem you are solving? Who are you solving it for? How you are going to solve it? In what ways will your future users’ lives be better?
Now, explain your idea the way you described it to a few people who haven’t heard it yet and collect their feedback. Their questions and misunderstandings will teach you a lot about what is missing from your explanation.
In most cases you’ll have some competition. And your idea is probably better in some ways than the competition’s. The question is are your visitors going to understand that? For this you’ll need to find potential users who are familiar with the competition. Repeat the previous steps while keeping in mind specifically the need to explain the superiority of your idea over theirs’.
After a few iterations you should get to a point where you can explain your idea briefly and the person you are explaining to gets it.
Targeting the right audience
It’s important that you understand who your target audience is. And no, everyone is not a target audience. One client defined their target audience by stating that they are millennials. A single 19 year old guy from Miami who is into paragliding and Star Wars is just as millennial as a married 32 year old woman with 3 children and a mortgage from Germany who has no time for hobbies, but if she could she would go on a backpacking trip to New Zealand. Can both of them be equally interested in your idea? Maybe not. The wider the audience you target the less people you are going to hit.
Specific definition of the target audience will help you through all the steps of the validation process and increase your chances of getting realistic results. Later in the product building phase it will be crucial too.
Setting up the goal
Without specific goals you might find yourself with a web page that collects meaningless data and/or doesn’t drive your visitors towards the action that will provide you with the data you want.
The primary goal of a validation page is of course collecting feedback from potential customers regarding their level of interest in the product or service. It is usually in a form of collecting email signups, although they provide very low value and little actual commitment. It could also be pre-ordering your product or service or allowing you to call them for a one to one interview.
So, before you actually start building ask yourself: What is the best kind of information that will give me a realistic picture of the audience’s interest?
A validation page is not just about testing your idea in a form of a yes or no, but also about learning as much as possible, because let’s face it, if you are successful in proving that your idea is great, that means that you’ll start building it. To be successful at that you’ll need to know a hell of a lot more than whether people are willing to pay for your idea or not.
It’s best to prepare for that stage now.
So, your secondary goal, should allow you to gather as much information as you can to help you learn more from your visitors. A good secondary goal could be asking the visitors to answer a few questions regarding the way they experience the problem that you are solving in a form that they could fill out. Even if only a handful of people answer the questions that already gives you extra input from your audience. This could also be the beginning of a group of people who you can engage with and get their feedback while developing the product.
Now that you know how you are telling the story, who you are telling it to and what you are trying to achieve with this page, you are ready to start building. This part could be another series of articles, so, for now, let’s break it down this way:
- Text - Use the refined explanation that you developed while talking to people and break it down to smaller pieces of information that you’ll deliver in the right order. Also, consider the target audience. Different people will appreciate different lingo. You know who you are addressing. Speak their language.
Visuals - From our experience this is where most people fail to consider the details. Images talk. They deliver tons of conscious and subconscious information. Also they are fantastic tools to add context to the text they are accompanying. For example: imagine this line: “You can attach the solar charger to any backpack and charge your phone constantly”. Probably everyone who reads this imagines a completely different scenario. Now imagine that a photo of a backpacker is placed next to the text. It shows a young man or woman hiking a mountain trail. How much context does it give you regarding who the product is for and what its intended scenario of use is? The same text could have been relevant to a completely different product. The well chosen image gave the extra information to understand the whole message without adding more text.
Actions - Is your goal to get people to pre-order? You’ll need to work much more on the validation site. It needs to provide all the details necessary to convert a visitor to a customer. The site should be much more complete and well defined than a simple validation page targeting email signups. After all, we are talking about building a validation site that builds enough trust to make a payment.
This is, of course, just the beginning. You will still need to work hard to actually bring your audience to the web page and analyze the data once you have collected it. Maybe you’ll need to make changes to your idea and start a new validation cycle. There will be a lot to do.
There is a whole book dedicated to this subject by Pat Flynn named “Will it fly?" I would also recommend Chris Guillebeau’s “$100 Startup”. It tells many startup stories, for some it includes how the idea was validated.
Do you have questions regarding product validation? Contact us, we’re happy to help.