Product validation 101 – get out of the building!

I’m very passionate about product validation, and after talking about why to validate your product idea, I often get asked how to do that. In my opinion, the best thing you can do is the one people most dread of doing, ‘Get out of the building’, and that’s exactly what you should do. And yes I mean it!

This was introduced in The Lean Startup, and is often referred as the ‘Lean Startup methodology’. As the author Eric Ries wrote, ‘we must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want’. That means validating your product idea.

To find out what your customers really want, you must go out and find people from your target group and figure out if they proactively come up with the problem your product can solve. Once you find that sweet spot, you’ve hit the jackpot. If you don’t, you didn’t spend all your time and money on non winning lottery tickets.

Let’s say you have an idea for an app that helps queuing to restaurants. Maybe with this brilliant idea you can skip the actual queue and just walk in when your table is ready. So now you need to think who would use this product, who are your early adopters? In this case, it could be mobile savvy 25-45 year old inner city folks who like going out but are time poor. Now you need to go out, find where they are and start asking some questions.

It’s obvious you could find the exact target audience from where the problem exists: restaurant queues. You could also try bus stops and other generic areas where people might have an extra minute to give their time.

  1. Consider how strong validation you’d want for your product. I personally would usually go with 10 out of 30 or 40 interviews. The riskier the project, the bigger sample I would take.
  2. Start interviews. Find out if the person qualifies as a target group representative. In this case, they need to be mobile savvy and go often to eat out in restaurants. If yes, proceed.
  3. Do they represent the problem, that you assume that exists? Here we need to find out if people are frustrated with the queueing and would like an alternative how to do it without literally standing in the queue or waiting for the call. If yes, validated!
  4. Did you get your 10/30 validation? If yes, go for it! If not, back to the square one (it’s easier now than after fully developed product no one wants).

Firstly, it’s important to note, that all the interviews need to be as objective as possible. So do not use a friend or relative who already knows you. It’s important to talk to perfect strangers - and remember they need to qualify as your target audience. Secondly, you need to let the interviewee tell you about the problem - without asking about it. You only need to ask about ‘so how would you describe your usual experience going to a restaurant’. If from that question you get frustration against the queueing, you’re on to something. If the interviewee doesn’t mention anything about queueing, do not push the question directly, as that would make it biased. If the problem didn’t come up ‘organically’, it doesn’t exist strongly enough. But don’t give up just after the first one or two interviews - go through at least 10 more interviews and see if you get any validating ones.

You can (and should) also use this same technique later on for customer development. You should actively talk to your customer base to understand what new needs they might have for your product. Just go back to the steps 1-4 every few months to stay ahead of the curve.

In the end of the day, it’s all pretty simple, isn’t it? It all comes down to statistics and analysis, so it’s possible to take more calculated risks.