How To Validate Your Business Idea
Everyone has business ideas - but the bigger questions are:
- Do people actually want this?
- Will people pay money for this?
- How much will they pay?
- Can this be profitable?
Here are 8 ways you can validate a product idea , which, if taking the right steps, can save you months, if not years of time working on the wrong idea.
1. See if people are searching Google for your product
One of the best ways to validate a product is to make sure that people are actually searching for it. If they're not searching for it - it might be a sign that nobody needs it.
Luckily, there are hundreds of tools you can use to see if your product idea is being searched for.
The first one is simply by going to Google and to start typing and see if your targeted keyword is in the autocomplete search results:
Another great tool is Google Keyword Planner.
Jack Bramhall had an idea for a coffee product, and used Google to find hundreds of other people that were looking for the product:
Quite simply the original idea came from asking the question “Why can’t I get hot chocolate for my Nespresso machine?”, combined with “Surely I can get cheaper Nespresso pods?”.
Using Google’s own tools such as the keyword planner and trends, we were able to quickly identify that there were thousands of people asking the same question that I was - but nobody providing the product! The Nespresso and coffee pod market was also quite clearly growing exponentially across the whole of Europe.
To be clear, there were other companies making “compatible” pods for these machines, but coffee only and from my own research there were a lot of issues with compatibility and quality.
As another example, Kyle Bergman found that up to 1,000 people were searching for a product idea that didn't even exist yet
Once I realized other people might want sweatpant overalls too, I used Google's keyword search planner to see roughly how many people were looking for this term online. In the month of March 2017, this tool showed that between 100-1,000 people were also looking for sweatpant overalls.
A part of me was shocked, but after I thought about it...it made sense - probably a little awareness created from the BuzzFeed article, but more importantly, people just like me were looking for an awesome, comfy combo.
2. Build your Email List
A crucial step in validating your business idea is to build a list of email subscribers - you don't need a list of a thousand subscribers to start, just enough to determine who your audience is & if there is a need for your product.
A great way to start is by building a simple landing page on your website that describes your product & what you are planning on building. From there, you have something that captures the customer name and email address.
Bonus: Offer something free to your customer so they are incentivized to provide you their information, and may even convert into a real-life customer.
For example, Samer Awada, Founder of OneSEO drove traffic to a landing page and offered a FREE guide in PDF form in exchange for their customer's email address.
We expected our first order to come in at least 6 months down the line after our first launch. However, in the first month, the business generated a little over $1,000 from a 500 person pre-launch email list we had built two months prior with the use of facebook & a landing page.
Fast forward one year later and with just a little bit of marketing, the company generated a little over $50,000 with an average MRR now of $15,000.
3. Create Facebook Ads for your product
Facebook Ads are a great and inexpensive way to drive targeted customers to your website & product.
Even if the product is not quite ready, but you're looking for targeted and unsolicited "feedback", this can be a go-to method for validating your idea.
At this stage, the goal for your Facebook ads is not necessarily to convert leads (although that may happen organically), but it's to determine different audiences that may or may not be interested in your idea and to observe the types of engagement you're getting.
A few quick & easy tips:
- The Ad can be as simple as a small promotion/incentive of the product or a short video of the product.
- Engaged users will watch the video (even if it's just for 5-10 seconds) or click around on the Ad.
- Make sure you have a Facebook Page or Landing Page that users can click to learn more about the product. We talked about this in #2, but this is highly crucial so you can collect customer data and observe analytics (ie. number of clicks, where people are clicking, time spent on your page etc).
For example, before Gary Fox launched his bootstrapped Airbnb Management company, he needed to understand the pain points of hosts and see if there was actually a demand for this management service.
How did he do this? Simple: He created a basic SurveyMonkey and used targeted Facebook ads to promote it to his target audience: people in Dublin that were already Airbnb hosts.
Two weeks later, I had 30 responses and enough demand to convince me to kick off the task of creating the business.
4. Talk to Potential Customers
Another common method of validation is simply talking to people.
Reaching out to potential customers to ensure your product is going to solve their specific needs may be one of the most critical parts of validating your business idea.
As simple as it may sound, you just need to reach out to your target customer and ask them if your product idea addresses a specific pain-point for them, and if they would pay for it.
Talking to customers is not as complicated as it sounds. There are a variety of ways you can get feedback on your product idea.
For example - Matthew Rideout, Founder of Strict Chef bought strangers coffee at Starbucks in exchange for 20 minutes of their time to discuss his app:
You’d be amazed at how readily strangers will meet you at Starbucks and spend 20 minutes discussing your app concept, for the price of a coffee. Keep doing this until your prospects are begging for your prototype to be real, until they are saying “wow, when can I get this!?”
Get as much of your app prototype validated and ready before writing a single line of code. There are so many great tools available today that allow one to build high-fidelity prototypes. One can rapidly iterate their app concept by demoing these prototypes on-device with prospective customers very affordably.
Keeping your idea a secret is not going to get you anywhere. You’ll end up building something no one needs. Customer interviews and market research are the most critical part of app development.
5. Build a Landing Page
We briefly talked about the importance of a landing page in #2 and #3 as compiling an email list, creating Facebook ads and building a landing page all compliment each other.
Let's dive a little bit deeper into what it takes to build a landing page and go through the steps to building this out prior to launching your product, and learn through some examples.
Cody Candee (founder of Bounce) walks us through the quick and easy steps they took to build a landing page and validate the product before going all-in:
Aleks and I were brainstorming new business ideas when I mentioned the idea of “an Uber for your things.”
- We decided to put up a landing page for bag storage and delivery in New York City
- In three hours, we used a basic landing page builder, plugged in Adwords and had our first customer request a "Bounce" 5 minutes later.
- We hopped on Citi bikes to fulfill our first orders, and from then on customers kept coming
We saw that there was enough demand with just a web app and continued supporting this and growing users while we started laying the groundwork for our mobile app.
People found us through online search, Adwords that were profitable, and word of mouth.
You don't have to be an expert at code to create a landing page.
There are various different platforms that are more "plug and play" and allow you to easily create a template. A few easy ones to get started would be:
Once you have created your landing page, a creative way to see if customers are actually interested in buying your product is to actually create a "BUY NOW" button.
6. Get Feedback from a Targeted Niche
We talked about how talking to your customers and strangers is important, but we can take that further.
There are other ways to get feedback from a targeted niche that can really help build your confidence & validate your product.
- Facebook groups
- Niche forums
- Twitter communities
- Product Hunt
A great example of this was when Diego Rios, Founder of Markeko, posted his idea in a digital marketing facebook group and ultimately got kicked out.
“You’ve been kicked out of the group!”
I was surprised… but also it was the time I knew I had to do something about it!
Facebook announced that they were launching their Facebook Blueprint Certifications for the public back in 2017. I thought it was a good idea to get certified as I was working in the digital marketing space but couldn’t really find content or helpful guides.
There was really no big plan or idea when I first started Markeko. I stumbled upon a problem when I first took the exam and realized more and more people were going through the same.
It really started with a comment on a digital marketing Facebook group.
I was a member of the Digital Marketer group and wrote a post as I had just passed the first Blueprint Exam. I got really good feedback and a lot of comments from others who were looking into taking the Facebook Blueprint Certification Exams.
I ultimately got kicked out of the group as the free study guide had links to the website I had just built; however, it was a great way to validate my product and idea without spending money on it!
7. Build a Prototype for your product
If you're hoping to decrease any sort of risk that comes with launching and mass-producing a product, designing a prototype can be a great way to de-risk that situation.
The point of a prototype is that it doesn't have to be perfect.
In the beginning stages, it doesn't matter how rough V1 of your prototype is, it's more important to just get started and you can always refine from there based on feedback from your network and most importantly your customers.
You'll love Emma Lovell's story of designing her initial prototype for her business, CoziGo:
The initial prototype of CoziGo would make you laugh.
I asked my hubby to make a box the size of an average airline bassinet. Then I went to a hardware store… the prototype was made up of plumbers tubing, black fabric, and double sided sticky tape as I can’t sew to save myself.
It was the ugliest thing ever, but it gave me something to photograph so I could start liaising with potential manufacturers. The first manufactured prototype was 80% there the first time…. It took a further 18 months to nail the other 20%!
So I finally get a prototype I'm happy with, only to find out that 80% of them were completely unfit for sale. Eighty percent of the units were twisted and the incorrect shape and the quality of workmanship was nowhere near that of the samples that had been previously made for me.
The factory refused to take them back and said it was our problem! That cost my business $25,000 and the most heartbreaking thing was having to pay $1000 to have them taken away to be shredded and put into the landfill!
Once I stopped crying over that, I set about finding an alternative manufacturer and started the whole process again. I made the unusual decision to stay with the same agent - I felt like his experience should have protected me from these issues, but he took responsibility and agreed to forgo commissions on a number of future orders so we could move forward.
Moving forward, it was somewhat easier as we had a prototype that we were happy with and simply needed to find a factory that was confident they could make them. New molds had to be paid for, but I knew the right questions to ask this time around and we kept moving forward.
Want more case studies that go in-depth about their prototype journey? Check these out:
- How Two Founders Started A $5M Business Selling Beach Towels
- Launching a Healthy Protein Pancake Business
- How I Invented A Better Windshield Wiper And A $2M/Year Business
8. Launch a Crowdfunding Campagin
If you're looking for some exposure & additional funding, crowdfunding can be a great way to help you scale your business.
Kickstarter is a great resource to share your story, secure funds and collect feedback about your product. It can also really help with funneling organic inbound leads once your product comes to life.
For example, Travis Peterson, founder of Joker Greeting created a successful Kickstarter campaign and raised $92,073 in 30 days with no marketing:
We launched on Kickstarter - we didn’t have a brand, website or anything.
We hit our $7,500 goal in 3-4 days after being picked up on CNET, and ABC News. Later it was BuzzFeed and Gizmodo and more. This was when I learned what “going viral” truly meant and how making a great product can matter so much more than making a just a good product.
Want to learn about one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history?
Check out this story, where the founders of Scribit raised $50,000 USD in the first 60 minutes, and $180,000 USD in the first 24 hours.
There you have it - 8 ways (and many examples) of how founders validated their ideas before going to market.
Are you in the process of validating or looking to get started, or have any questions? Check out thousands of case studies here for more tips and real-world examples!
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