Not all ideas are good. Validating Your Startup Idea

All successful startups have one thing in common: they all started with a great idea. An idea that made people’s lives easier, solved people’s problems and/or brought them joy.  Everyone thinks their ideas are great and this is largely due to confirmation bias - “our tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses”. Considering that the main cause of startup failure is due to founders coming up with ideas that have no market need, the importance of validating your idea is real. Here is how to validate your startup idea:

There are two questions you need to ask yourself when it comes to validating your idea:

  1. Is there enough demand for your idea or the solution you will be proposing?
  2. Can you execute this idea successfully?
In other words, is it desirable, feasible, and viable?
 
If you are building a tech company but have no background in programming you need to make sure you have a partner with complementary skills who can cover this aspect of the business. Spending some time to understand the basics of programming will save you time and effort as it will help you communicate your ideas in the same language as your developers. 
 
The two aspects of startup methodology we look at to answer those questions are customer development and prototyping:

Customer Development

The best way to test your idea without having a product or service yet is through customer development. It is a tedious but necessary process if you want to get real insight into your idea. This involves creating surveys, hosting focus groups and interviewing people in order to identify whether there is a need for your idea. During this process, you need to be as impartial as possible and prepared to pivot at any time based on your findings. 
However, customer development is not immune to confirmation bias, therefore in order to be objective, avoid questions which are formulated in a way that leads the interviewee. One way to do this is to follow the principles of the Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick such as wording your questions in a conversational manner that doesn’t give away your idea. For example instead of asking “What do you think of an app that tells you how full train carriages are? ” you could ask “What are your primary concerns when heading on a train journey?” If they mention not having a seat, you are on the road to validating your business idea. Simply having a conversation about a certain topic or industry will help you establish customer pain points, come up with a solution that has a product-market fit and help you solve a real problem. 
 

Customer Development Diagram

Prototyping

Once you have established product-market fit through customer development, you will need to find out whether your idea is actually feasible. This is where you enter the prototyping stage of your startup idea. Your prototype will be the first version of your start up idea and will help you test, develop and validate hypotheses about your idea. Prototypes can take many forms such as sketches, apps, websites or physical products. The faster you can develop a prototype to test your hypothesis, the faster you will be able to validate or reject this hypothesis and move on to the next prototyping stage. Remember to keep your prototypes as simple and inexpensive as possible, these are only the first iterations of your idea. Ultimately, the prototyping stage will allow you to create an MVP (minimum viable product), which is the minimum set of features necessary to engage early adopters.
 
Customer development will help you establish whether there is a real market demand for your product or service whilst prototyping will help you understand whether the idea is executable and allow you to create your MVP. Once you have done your customer development and created an MVP, it’s time to start pitching your idea and putting together your business plan. 
Good luck! 
 

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"The Road to Validating Your Startup IdeaFirst published on Company Connecting November 2018

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