Lesson 1: The ‘Who’ & ‘What’ Questions of MVP Validation
You’re excited. You haven’t been this excited since your honeymoon and for a damn good reason. You’ve got this amazing idea for a startup and you know it’s going to be the next big thing. You know it, your friends know it, even the old lady who lives the next block over knows it.
So what’s next? Quit your job? Learn how to code?
First things first, learn to validate your idea.
Validation is a process to test whether or not your idea is likely to work and if that idea is even worth spending your time and attention on.
The concept of validation itself is pretty simple. You ask a few people here and there what they think of your idea and based on feedback, come up with a decision of whether or not you should work on it.
The hard part about validating is actually getting meaningful results. It’s really all about who you’re going to ask and what questions you’ll ask them.
Don’t pitch friends or family. Friends and family are terrible people to ask when trying to validate your idea because they’re biased. They’ll likely support the idea even if it’s bat-shit crazy because to them, what they believe in isn’t the idea, but rather you as a person.
Can we really call this validation?
To figure out who to ask, you need to define your target demographic. These are the people that will most likely find value in what you have to offer.
Identifying your target demographic is important because it sets the stage to start gathering feedback unique to that specific group.
Let’s say you’re building a iPhone app to schedule meetings — who’s your target demographic? What kind of people are going to use your product? Realtors? Ice cream vendors? Librarians?
You don’t want to just say ‘oh, anyone who wants to schedule a meeting’ because that’s way too vague and you won’t learn much. Take a realtor for example. What are core features that a realtor would want as part of the app? Maybe in-app directions, camera, and team syncing? What about a startup founder? Aggregated profile information, read notifications, meeting reminders? Different target demographics have different needs, so how do you know what you should build?
The idea is to define several groups of people (at least 4–5 people per group) who are likely candidates for your idea — it doesn’t matter that much, as long there’s some kind of logic to the type of target demographic you’ve defined because everything at this point is just an assumption. Your idea, regardless of whether or not it solves a problem you’ve been having is still an assumption that needs to be validated. There’s no point in overthinking things until you learn more and reiterate based off of feedback.
The second part of what it means to validate is asking the right questions.
If you ask people, do you wish your phone had a longer battery life? Well, of yeah of course. Most people would say yes because why wouldn’t they?
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford
Questions like that are useless because you don’t actually learn anything from it. The kind of questions you really want to ask should be open-ended and draw from their experience. A question like, “As a realtor, what is the biggest problem you’ve had when scheduling meetings? Would you mind showing me in person how you schedule a meeting?” will be way more useful.
Let people take the wheel and show you what’s missing. It’s often solving problems that they’ve already gotten used to that cause the greatest impact. (Remember how DSL used to be the shit?)
“Why do you pay for XX product (competitor)?”
“What products have you tried (competitors) and why did you stop using them?”
Focus on observing. Habits and patterns you recognize serves as the roadmap of what to build next, and more importantly, what not to build.
If your MVP doesn’t even have the basic features that they’ve come to expect when scheduling meetings, could you expect them to find your product useful?
False Positive Bullshit
One thing to look out for are “false-positives” when validating an idea.
Just because someone in your professional network shares your idea with their social networks doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a product that they believe in. To them, sharing it might just be more of a polite gesture than anything.
When you have a product that they really want, they’ll want to give you their email. They’ll intro you to people they know will need this product. Chances are, they’ll be even more excited than you are because when you make something people really want, you’re probably solving a huge pain point of theirs and that’s validation.
That’s the best way to know if someone’s interested based on their enthusiasm. The more enthusiastic they are about your product and if whether they keep asking for updates even weeks later when you’re still building the MVP, the more likely they’re someone who actually wants to use your product.