Create products that people love by validating your idea first

  • Buffer

You’ve done it before. You asked someone this question:

What do you think of my idea?

Most people will tell you it’s a good idea and then they’ll go on to tell you why it’s good based on their own personal experience. These people are assuming that you want to hear something positive from them. They believe that being supportive of your idea is what’ll help you most.

I find myself hearing the question and asking more questions back. I do this so I can understand why you are excited about the idea, how you discovered it and what stage you are at with it.

Most of the time if you are asking other people about the idea itself, you are at the earliest stages of the idea and haven’t validated it yet.

I love this early stage.

The possibilites are endless and you need to figure out how to create something people love. This can be a fresh idea for a business or even new features for an existing product.

If you haven’t already, you’ll soon realize that it’s easy to waste time on ideas that don’t matter.

I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve attempted to create dozens of products and advised many other people as they’ve created things.

Consumer ideas focused on emotion, entertainment and leisure are more difficult to validate compare to products that businesses buy.

Businesses directly pay for the products they use. A person’s job at work is dependent on getting things done in their company. This validation process will be most useful to you when you’re validating ideas that target other businesses as customers.

Here is a three step process you can use to validate ideas:

  1. Create a problem hypothesis from your idea
  2. Setup a system to pull people to you
  3. Find the pattern of pain

I’ll share the strategy for each step and also provide examples.

Create a problem hypothesis from your idea

Ideas are just a description of the solution to a problem. Converting your idea to a problem hypothesis enables you to stay focused on validating the idea instead of building the solution.

You don’t want to get stuck creating a solution and then searching for the problem that it solves. This situation is most common when people decide to solve a problem that they have themselves. You have to make sure enough other people have the problem too.

When creating a problem hypothesis start by describing the group of people you are targeting and what problem you think they have. It’s a simple format:

[Group of people] have a problem [their problem]

At KISSmetrics, we built a mobile app for people that use Google Analytics. Here’s our hypothesis:

Google Analytics users have a problem monitoring key business metrics on their mobile phone.

Learn how we validated our mobile app idea.

We also created a SaaS product called KISSinsights that we sold and has since been renamed to Qualaroo. Here’s the original KISSinsights hypothesis:

Product manager type people have a problem doing fast/effective/frequent customer research.

Learn how the lean startup methodology helped us validate and build KISSinsights.

When we started KISSmetrics, only a few businesses were using Twitter for marketing. We shared tweets and links that appealed to online marketers and we noticed that more of them would start following us.

So we decided to build a simple product to help with scheduling tweets. It started out as a PHP script that turned into a small SaaS application called ShareFeed which we eventually sold to Buffer. Here’s the original ShareFeed hypothesis:

Twitter power users have a problem tweeting interesting things.

Learn about the idea validation process we used for ShareFeed.

You can take the idea for a new feature or a product iteration and create a hypothesis out of it. When we wanted to improve our real-time view in the KISSmetrics product, we started with a hypothesis:

New and existing KISSmetrics customers have a problem debuging their implementation and viewing their users in real-time.

Learn how we iterated the KISSmetrics real-time view and doubled engagement.

When working with an existing product make sure you have great ways to passively and actively collect feedback from your customers. It’s important to listen to your feedback channels and use the information to come up with ideas that inform your hypothesis.

Setup a system to pull people to you

Once you’ve created a problem hypothesis you’ll know the exact type of person who you want to reach and a high-level idea of what you want to learn.

If you are working on an existing product and adding a feature or iterating on one, you’ll most likely be able to email your customers to reach them. You want to find ways to attract people and talk to them. The ultimate goal is to get them to a voice, video or in-person conversation. Here are a few ideas on how you can get existing customers to talk to you:

  • Send an email to ask for feedback and talk to them
  • Use a Qualaroo pop-up on your website to setup a time to talk
  • Add a message asking to chat at the top of your web application
  • If you have their number try calling to offer help and get their feedback
  • Create a “fake” button, link or tab for the new feature that when clicked asks to setup a time to talk

For a new product idea, unless you have direct access to a few dozen or more of your potential customers, you need to create a system to pull people to you. The most common way is to create a landing page that leads to a survey that people fill out. In the survey, you get to ask some relevant questions and also if people would be willing to chat with you.

Ask for chat questions

The landing page

Your landing page should be designed to get people curious by explaining the benefits of solving the problem you created in your hypothesis. Then they can choose to proceed by clicking the button, putting in their email or authenticating with a third-party service such as Google, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Don’t spend a ton of time creating this landing page. A basic landing page is just some copy and a button that leads to a SurveyMonkey or Wufoo survey. In some cases it makes sense to spend more time and get people’s emails first or even have people authenticate with a third-party service.

If you spend the additional time it should be because what you can learn about your customers is worth the extra development time. Don’t forget that the goal isn’t about acquiring customers, it’s about finding potential customers to talk to in order to validate your idea. Here are a few examples of landing pages I’ve used in the past:

Serph landing page

Crazy Egg early access landing page

kissmetrics old landing page

kissmetrics gift landing page

daily dot io landing page

sharefeed landing page

ki landing page

KISSinsights landing page

my analytics app landing page

The survey

The next step is to ask people a few questions once they have clicked on your button, entered their email or authenticated. Your goal with the survey is to learn more about your potential customers and have them give their information so you can reach them. Here are examples of surveys I’ve used:

survey dot io survey

ShareFeed survey

KISSmetrics survey

Each question should have a specific purpose. Here are three types of idea validation questions:

Market Intelligence

What are you up against? What are people currently using? The answer can inform future customer acquisiton tactics as well as potential integrations and partnerships.

twitter tools question

analytics tools question

sponge tools question

Qualifiers

Helps you filter people to better target the ones you should follow-up with and segment responses to other questions.

twitter account types

twitter account number

maintain blog question

business model question

product stage question

Discovery

People will tell you things if you ask them. Read every response and categorize each of your open-ended responses into buckets. With open-ended questions you’ll also discover the words people use. These responses are useful when you need to write marketing copy and iterate or test your landing page.

website question

sharefeed dream

kissmetrics dream

How to get traffic

Once you’ve got a landing page and a survey setup you will need to drive traffic to your landing page. People commonly ask about how to drive traffic and acquire those first set of people. Ask no more!

Here are 95 ways to bring your potential customers to you. You’ll find at least one tactic that’ll work for you.

Find the pattern of pain

After analyzing the survey responses you’ll have a list of people to reach out to so you can schedule your first set of conversations.

People love to talk about themselves including their work life. Start the conversation by asking them to tell you stories about their work. This enables you to hear things from their perspective and dig deeper into areas that are interesting to you. Resist the urge to ask directly about their problems until you hear something that sounds painful in their story. It’s easier for most people to tell you stories than to talk about their struggles.

This process is called customer development. Here are three resources to help you understand the process and ask the right questions:

How to Structure Customer Development Interviews
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development
Customer Development FAQ

You need to find out if people really do have the problem you think they have or if they don’t care at all. When trying to validate your idea the main goal is to find pain. The pattern of pain across your target customers. You need to discover the common pain. People tend to suggest solving your own problem because you get to focus on pain that you feel. Many times that pain you feel can be misleading.

You have to make sure other people feel the pain too. You can’t validate an idea based on your own opinion. Your time is limited and you shouldn’t be wasting it on creating things people don’t love.

This post is part of a weekly Startup Edition.