Product validation is a funny subject. A lot of people think this is what happens after you’re done with the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) stage of development, and are ready to start some real Customer Development. But I think differently.
Why would you wait until the entire product is essentially complete, wasting not just your time and money on a product that you’re not sure will sell? Think about this analogy in other aspects of your life.
Would you marry your spouse without dating them first?
Would you buy a car without a test drive?
I think not. So why as entrepreneurs do we think that all of ideas are great and that the masses will line up in droves in order to buy it without first talking to those prospective buyers? Just an asinine assumption.
I’ve seen too many of my friends get burned by missing this step in the past year or so, that I’m setting out to make it my mission to teach, by example, how to go about the entire process of validating an idea. This is absolutely the first step in any product process, and must be done before any work is done to actually create something, so that you’re maximizing the chances that people actually want what you end up making.
And I’m going to “Live Blog” about it along the way.
The So What
The reason you must validate a new idea before starting to build it is one of costs. There are two main costs involved. The first and most obvious are real costs. Time and money. Not many of us have enormous amounts of extra of either of these, and both should be highly guarded in our entrepreneurial lives. Wasting either of these will lead to frustration, increased self doubt, and potentially missing out on future opportunities down the road.
The bigger cost though, could be one of opportunity. Say you do go down to your basement and hammer away at code for 6 months before validating that what you’re working on is in fact what people want to buy. What if that’s not the case…what would those last 6 months represent? Just a giant gap of time that you will never again be able to recover. Like a bad 80s movie, these are moments in our lives that we’ll never get back.
If you’re an entrepreneur, there may not be too many big at bats that we have before we’re all done (emotionally, spiritually, and financially). If you take a big swing at something before making damn sure that it’s something worth investing the time in, then you’re gambling with the one un renewable resource we have: opportunity.
As you know I’m a huge podcast junkie, and have even built a business around the industry. And a few weeks ago I heard this quote from The Startup Chat guys:
A business really starts when you begin talking with customers
So many of us think that a business starts when we register a domain, put up a landing page, or start gathering email addresses. In fact I think that a lot of these things (and maybe this blog post itself) are just glorified excuses we have for procrastinating around the very thing that we know we need to do, but are too scared.
Selling is tough work. Getting the virtual door slammed in your face is hard to accept sometimes. But what if you can be wrong before you even start. How bad is the outcome then?
I’d venture to say that the biggest reason for these horrendous statistics about 80+% of new companies failing is due entirely to their inability to talk to customers early. Or not at all.
The statistics for businesses succeeding if they have an initial customer when they begin is really outstanding. In this case the business has been validated (with cold, hard cash money), and the business can grow from there. None of this procrastinating around actually conducting business all in the name of creating a better mouse trap. How about you go out and sell some mouse traps, and then go from there?
Gut Check Time
If you’re in full on product creation mode, please do me a favor. Stop working on your damn product, pick up the phone and call 10 people that you think might actually buy it.
If you can’t get 2 of them to talk with you about it and commit to moving the sale forward, then you have a big freaking problem.
If you have done that then you’re at least in decent shape (although shame on you for putting that to chance until now).
I plan this to be a multi part series on validating a product, from scratch, before you do a single ounce of work on the product itself. Next up I’m going to talk about the product idea I have, and what steps I’m going to take to begin validating the idea before I spend any time or money on actually making any of it. Stay tuned…this is going to be a blast.