How to validate your idea before you build – and avoid a world of hurt

- February 21, 2019 3 MIN READ

Idea validation is a cyclical process. It’s never really done. It’s a lot like jumping rope with a group. You just need to jump in at some point and start trying. You also might get smacked in the face a few times.

Everyone needs a two sentence pitch. In startup land, it needs to start with the following formula: What problem are you solving? Who are you solving it for?

If (and only if) those two sentences pique the interest of the listener have you earned the opportunity to expand. That’s what makes the two sentence pitch so hard. You don’t have the luxury of time to explain your perspective, and the cold reality is most people only care about their problems.

Markets aren’t myopic – the more perspectives the better

Gathering as many diverse perspectives on the problem you are solving is the best way to de-risk your approach. One of the worst validation sins to make when planning an early-stage startup is only asking family, friends, or industry colleagues their take on the problem (or worse, your idea for a solution). That is not validation; that is shopping for social acceptance to do your startup.

Developing a solid validation plan can be scary at worst and tedious at best, but it will save you a world of pain down the line.

However, there’s one other shortcut, and that’s surrounding yourself with people who have gone through this pain. At Inspire9, the community members here openly share their ideas with each other, providing feedback and pivotal perspectives in a supportive environment.

For most people, do nothing is the default mode setting. Factor this in

As go-getting entrepreneurs, it can be easy to forget you are the exception, not the rule. Most humans are wired to just suck it up and deal with their day-to-day problems rather than spend the mental time and effort to test out possible solutions.

When you’re validating the problem core to your startup idea, always ask, ‘Why would somebody want to try your solution rather than just do nothing?’

Remember, people care about their problems, their worlds, their lives. Plant the seed that their life could be better in some tiny way and they have a reason to entertain trying a possible solution. If you can’t pull them into this hypothetical future with a solution, seriously ask yourself if your market has the early adopters necessary to work at this time.

Speaking from experience, one of our residents, Scott Ko of ColourSpace, puts it this way:

“Want to really stress yourself out in the best possible way? Go out onto the street (or wherever your target market is) and talk to 10 complete strangers. Ask them what problems they’ve experienced that are relevant to your idea, without talking about your solution. If their problems do not match the problem you think you’re solving, then guess what? You’ve got a solution that only solves your problem. 

“Any startup incubator or bootcamp worth their salt will make you do this type of research, so if you’re thinking of getting into one of those programs, there’s your homework.”

Timing is critical – when is the pain inflection point in your target customer’s journey?

Opportunity cost exists even when validating a potential startup idea. Part of your validation research needs to be hunting for the timing or conditions that prime your market for a solution. People’s poor experiences with cabs often trigger them to try out a new ridesharing app. People often don’t think about life insurance until a loved one dies suddenly or they have their own first child. You get the picture.

As a startup sleuth (aka validation researcher) you need to know what the most common timing triggers are for somebody to finally hit the point where ‘do nothing’ is not an option anymore.

If you don’t understand your customers’ frustrations before you start building, how will you be able to efficiently alleviate them with your solution?  

Should you outsource your business validation?

The risk you face when you outsource validation research is that you miss the periphery learnings (or rich data). It will read more like a Go/No Go answer to your hypothesis, instead of understanding why it’s a go/no go. That’s not to say you can’t outsource, but really understand what it is you are outsourcing.

At any rate, validating your startup idea pre-product build is scary AF much of the time. It’s not a good idea to do it in isolation. You can drop into a supportive community like Inspire9 for a day, a week, a month, or longer to have a chat to others who may be a few steps ahead of you.

Ren Butler is community lead at coworking community Inspire9.