Here's one obvious truth — validating a product idea is one great way to reduce your development cost. But a founder's excitement can blind them. Enthusiasm plus confidence can and do drive startup teams to achieve amazing results, but they gotta be pointed in the right direction.
I often see a reluctance to proceed with any kind of validation:
- to conduct usability testing,
- to allocate time for competitor analysis,
- or to organise user interviews after the product launch.
Why does it happen? Sometimes from believing that you know what users need better than your actual users. Sometimes you can just be afraid to hear honest feedback. The truth is that the reason doesn’t matter — you will hear this feedback anyway, sooner or later.
Ship fast and iterate is the mantra for today's startups — but only if you listen to that feedback from the market.
So let’s discuss together why ‘sooner’ is the better option.
Start idea validation early
What I would like to do right now is to go to the very early stage of your product — the idea — and suggest you start your validation there. It might be frightening.
What if someone steals your idea? Or says that your idea is not good enough?
Here are 2 reasons, with examples, why it’s in your best interest to start validation immediately at the idea stage.
1. Let your idea live and evolve
If someone would like to steal your idea, it will be stolen anyway. You will not be able to hide your product after launch, will you? 🙃
A product is not only about the idea but about the implementation. The same idea can be built and delivered in multiple ways and these will be absolutely different products.
What you gain by sharing your idea with the world is feedback. By gathering and summarising feedback from your potential customers, you focus your product vision and deliver the product they want to use.
Moreover, you can start building the community around your product while your product is still in progress. Another strong benefit is that you could find partners for product development or receive advice on how exactly this product might be used or implemented.
But the most valuable thing is that by starting digging deeper and sharing your idea with the world, you let this idea live and evolve in an unexpected way.
Example one — the evolution of Plant Care
We had an idea for a plant care application. During the investigation, we found out that there are multiple existing solutions. Successful apps in this sphere position themselves mostly as Plant Identifiers first and as plant care apps only second.
Reminders and care tips are considered additional features while Plant ID is the main selling point. The two most successful plant care apps still have plant identification features. Based on the comments in Appstore and GooglePlay, we figured out that these mobile apps are well rated by people who have dozens of plants.
We came across a strange fact — Plant ID seems to be a popular selling feature even though the much more efficient and free Google Lens exists. Besides most recommended app only for care reminders has almost no revenue and stopped updating in 2017 after just one year.
Based on all this research, we made a decision that:
- This niche has many good competitor solutions to compete with for market share. For us, this high cost is unaffordable at this stage.
- Care information problems are successfully solved by using Wikipedia, free gardening websites, social networks, gardener communities, etc.
- There is no point in building an app only for care reminders because plant identification is a killer feature for most of the competitors.
While we decided against the initial idea, the validation process opened a new angle for our app. During market analysis, we figured out that the market lacks a plant solution for children.
Children spent an enormous amount of time playing games on their phones. So why not offer them the opportunity to explore nature in a fun and entertaining way using their phone cameras?
This is quite an unexpected evolution of the idea, don’t you think?
2. Confirm whether there is a real problem or pain
During product idea validation, you will better understand who your target audience is, the main message you want to deliver, and what is the initial mandatory scope of the MVP. By talking to people, you will be able to understand the main pain points, if there are any.
For sure, you can talk once you have MVP ready. However, remember about the cost of making changes to your MVP. And what if you figure out that the problem is different and the MVP doesn’t solve it?
Why not start talking to your potential users about your idea, continue talking while building MVP, and never stop this process while scaling your product?
So at each stage you’ll be confident that you’re allocating your resources directly to benefit the customers and your product.
Example two — simple fitness reminders
Our second app idea was for fitness trainers — a simple product that facilitates communication between a personal trainer and a client and provides control over homework completion.
The idea was not to compete with complex professional software — rather to build a lightweight solution for everyone. Our target audience was personal fitness trainers in the USA who don’t use specialised products due to their complexity, cost and/or unnecessary features.
There were several problems which we tried to resolve for trainers:
- The first problem is that trainers use different methods of communication with different clients and as a result waste a lot of time.
- The second and main problem is difficulty tracking the progress of their clients, tracking whether homework was done, and providing valuable feedback.
For clients, we see a problem with a lack of discipline and when you receive the task in multiple places, you need to remember to do it and share the results. It doesn’t motivate you and acts as an additional factor to skip the task.
What do trainers need?
When we dive deeper and start talking to the trainers we figured out the following. All respondents were divided into 2 groups.
The first group of trainers does not see any problem with using messengers or emails for communication with the clients. Their argument is that they do not give more than 2-3 exercises and if the client doesn’t have the motivation to do them, it is ok for them. Moreover, they simply do not have so many clients they need to send homework.
The second group of trainers we interviewed suggested multiple professional solutions like Trainerize, FitSW, or Everfit.
As a result, we figured out that the problem doesn’t look real. There are multiple ways how it can be resolved, even without a dedicated product:
- Some trainers use free messengers and don’t see the problem with this approach due to a low number of online clients.
- Other trainers use an existing solution for professional trainers which fully satisfies them (based on app downloads, ratings and recommendations of these apps).
Moreover, among professional apps we found one which positioned itself in the same way same as we plan for our app. This app works since 2016 and offers even more features than we initially planned. Despite that it’s not very popular and takes a small market share.
However, the original idea was not to compete with professional software but to reach the rest of the market, so it means for us retargeting for a different audience.
We believe that this market will have a high threshold of entry due to the high number of existing solutions (free/paid) which are on the market for a long period of time and have a wide social presence.
To sum up, there are multiple reasons why validation is an important step while working on your product. From our experience, I think two main ones are:
- By validating your idea, you give additional energy to your idea and let it take unexpected forms. This is how the Plant Care app was transformed into Plants for Children.
- By confirming that there is a real problem/pain behind your idea, you can adjust or cancel your idea at an early stage with minimal costs. Just as we decided to stop moving forward with the idea “Do your homework”.