Arguably, validating your startup should be the first step in building a new business. Not doing so can come at a dramatic cost in both time and money. Think you've got the next big idea? Here are some things to stop and consider before diving in.
1. Prepare Your Mind
There's a large possibility that your idea sucks! Sorry to say that, but it's a painful scenario that you must be ready to accept. Many entrepreneurs won't realize this on their first startup attempt, and many more will never realize it at all, but if you're not ready to accept the possibility that your idea sucks, then you've dramatically decreased your chances for success. Hopefully, this post will help you understand both why, and how to maximize your potential for success in the long run.
2. Profile Your Customers
Find 10 real people that could actually be your potential customers. Write down who they are and why they could be your customer. You may know them, or you may find them via LinkedIn, or other relevant social medias. Put yourself in their shoes and understand why they would need what you're offering. Don't make excuses for not doing this. If you have a great idea for a potential market that you're not well connected with, either find your way in, or start looking for another idea as you won't be the right person to execute.
3. Refine Your Problem
Keep this simple. You need to be able to state what problem you are solving for your customer in one sentence or less. If you can't do this, you've greatly reduced your chances of success. Even if you have a great idea, you will not be able to communicate that to your customer. If you can't simply explain how you can help your customer, they will not listen to you.
4. Reach Out
You'll need to actually reach out to the 10 or more customers you have profiled in order to test your hypothesis. You do not need a working product. All you need is some time to chat with them, and share the problem you are solving. Feel free to be candid and transparent. Tell your customers that you are thinking of starting a new business and would love their expert opinions. You don't need to have a polished business nor do you need to have all of the answers. Just be comfortably transparent with who you are, and where you are at in this early stage.
5. Shut Up and Listen
As stated earlier in this post, your idea is likely not that great. This realization is cold and bitter sweet, but if you can handle it, you will do fine. The key to validation is to listen. I repeat, the key to validation is to listen. Pitch the problem you are solving in one sentence or less. Ask if it's indeed a problem, and then shut up and listen. If it's a real problem for your customer, then feel free to discuss your solution more. Otherwise, do not continue to pitch your idea, and instead ask more questions. You are now on a mission to uncover what problems your potential customers are truly having, and how you can help. Force yourself to keep an open mind, and be ready to pivot. Remember that all customers have real problems, no matter what. You need to be searching for what you can solve.
6. Get Tangible Commitments
Your customer may have validated the problem you are solving. Don't believe them! There are may reasons why your customer may have falsely validated a problem. One very common reason is that potential customers may just want to be polite. You should instead encourage your customers to be brutally honest. Let them know that doing so is the best gift they can give you. Another is that your problem is indeed a problem, but not a big enough problem for them to buy or even spend time with your solution. If your customer still confirms the problem you've identified is valid, ask them to buy your solution upfront before its even ready. This may come in the form of a first month down payment or some other small monetary commitment. Worst case, they will say no, or you may have to give them a refund if you cannot deliver, but if people aren't willing to put any money down, then you should take a second look at the problem you're trying to solve.
Final Note, Every Failure is an Opportunity
After following this process, congrats if you've validated your problem as being significant to your customers, but it's also very likely that you've found the opposite. Remember, your brain full of amazing business opportunities. Try to appreciate what you've just learned. Failure is a crucial part of innovation, and you've cycled through trial and error incredibly fast, so that you can pivot or move on to the next big thing. Failing fast is your path to innovation, and is how you can maximize your opportunities for success over time.
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