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Ask HN: What methods, tools etc. do you use to validate your business ideas?
110 points by kadfak 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments
Do you even validate your ideas or start implementing right away? What does your process of validation look like? How do you generate leads? (landing/coming soon pages, emails, etc.) How do you make the final decision whether the idea is worth implementing?

I get on the phone and call people even before building anything, especially with B2B products since their phone number is easier to find. Email works too but it's not immediate and it's easier for people to not reply than it is on the phone. I used a book called Talking to Humans (free) [1] that talks about how to validate ideas.

The main way to do so is to listen to the potential customer and not even mention your idea or that you are working on something. You must first understand their true problems, not your idea of what their problems might be, which many technical people especially do and rush into building a product that people may not even want. Ask them about their problems in their daily life and if you keep hearing the same thing over and over and it aligns with your idea, then build the product. Even if it doesn't, a repeatedly mentioned problem is still one that could have a good solution.

[1] www.talkingtohumans.com

If you aren't mentioning your idea or that you are working on something, what is the subject of the call? I think I'm not understanding how a cold call like this would work.

When you're validating an idea, you don't want to lead people on and get vacuous "yes"es, as in if I ask someone if they like my idea, they will most likely say yes, for one of three reasons:

1) they want to appease me, especially if they're family or friends 2) they like the idea in their minds but that may not be exactly what you have in mind 3) their idea is the same as in your mind, but they don't have the propensity to buy.

You want to listen to what their true needs are instead of shoehorning your product into their problem. You want to build the product from the ground up so to speak. Sometimes, you guess their needs completely right and your product is exactly what they're looking for. However, this is extremely rare because the odds that ex nihilo you got something that fits their needs exactly is 1/infinity. This does not mean that you cannot tweak your existing product to fit their needs, but it is simply better for both you (no prior sunk cost) and the customer (can get something that actually solves their problems) in the long term.

yes, the goal behind what you are trying to accomplish makes sense.

I think I'm still not understanding how you are making a cold call, over the phone, to a complete stranger, and somehow getting them to start talking about problems they may have without there being a purpose (from their point of view) to why they're talking to you in the first place.

I usually tell them that I'm doing research in the field and need first hand interviews, or something similar. If you can find a story or reason that is plausibly true about why you want to interview them, then that works as well.

But how do you get people to talk to you in the first place? How do you get potential customers to disclose their true problems? As an introvert I have ZERO clue about how to start the conversation, how to introduce myself, if I'm not telling them I'm working on something then what the hell do I say I am?

Where do you find the phone numbers?

Do you have a sample conversation you can share with us? Seems kind of weird to cold call and ask what their problems are?

For B2B, I use sites like http://www.findthecompany.com/. For consumer products, you need to find people who are in your target market and approach them. Questions can include something like what products (that are within my field of use) do you currently use, what do you like about them. what do you dislike, if you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to fix immediately, etc.

This is not a sales call, just ask for 20 minutes of their time saying you want to interview people in the field of use, and most people will give it to you. You can always have more interviews later so don't worry that 20 minutes is too short. Interestingly enough, people will be more motivated to keep doing interviews because it's like "someone is listening to their problems for once!" Then you can slowly start to sell the product, as you build it along. It is the common loop of build -> test -> repeat. The testing portion is not just unit tests and other technical tests, it is also the human tests on the other side, because what's the point of building if no one is using it? There is more info in the above cited book, it really changed how i think about customer discovery and sales.

The best validation is a deep understanding of the target group and their problems. Let me give you an example.

First, pick the target audience you are either part of, or familiar with. In my case, I chose new and aspiring managers.

Second, learn about their pains. Talk to them, see what they discuss on Reddit, Quora, and wherever else they gather. In my case, I see questions about communicating and dealing with difficult people and dealing with various corporate processes.

Third, figure out what they pay for. Some groups buy books. Some pay for SaaS. Some prefer webinars, screencasts or courses. The options are endless, but the focus should be on what the customers already buy, not what we can easily make. In my case, new managers often buy books.

Four, pick one pain and fix it. Now you don't really need validation in the conventional sense of the word because now you _know_ what the people want and you _know_ what they pay for. I picked the communication challenges new managers face because I have studied this topic extensively before.

Five, implement. In my case, I started writing a book, even though I have never written a book before. But I know there are people I can help, so there is a chance that I actually will. My progress so far (shameless plug, accept my apology and please remove it if you consider it inappropriate) https://www.thenewrole.com/

This process is a somewhat simplified version of what a marketing expert Amy Hoy talks about. I suggest you check her website https://stackingthebricks.com/ if you are considering starting a side business.

Hope this is useful! :-)

I find the "talk to them" part kinda hard for some audiences.

Some people make money with "talking" to people and want to be paid for answering any questions,even if you want to help them.

Some people are rather protective of their knowledge, too.

Perhaps against the grain, I sometimes like to build an MVP for myself before any significant validation; something I'll use even if others won't. Then if others don't use it, I will. It can be a good opportunity to experiment with certain technologies as well. One such example is a service I made http://EmailMeTweets.com

When I first made it public I submitted it to ProductHunt and tweeted at marketing folks, with large follower numbers on Twitter, to please try it and help promote it. There was traction but not nearly as much as fast as I had hoped. In fact, just the other day I created an Indiegogo campaign to gauge the interest in paying for the service. At this time, there are 3 contributors for $12 each. Without a big surge it obviously doesn't seem poised to stay alive... for the public. However, like I said, I'll continue to use the service privately, freely. So, it's validated and minimally viable for myself; unfortunately not for the public.

Curious about your use of Indiegogo - what made you decide to go that route to gauge interest? It doesn't strike me as a place where folks go to find Saas apps though I could be wrong.

I like to imagine that the product already exists, then attempt to sell it to a customer face to face / in person.

Let's say I'm doing some kind of SaaS for accountants. I would meet with dozens of accounts with a sales pitch for "x software". This will quickly help you figure out if what you're planning on building is actually valuable.

Anybody that takes you up on the sale gets to be an early tester.

A few days ago someone posted a side project marketing checklist to HN that has many great ideas: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14942902

Feedback from others is absolutely critical. I'm just one person and I usually have some sort of abnormal preference even if I don't know it.

So I'll implement a quick version of the idea that gets the point across to others and roll it out to generate feedback. People will likely utilize it in ways you didn't expect or point out flaws in concept or execution- this is good because even if it doesn't validate your idea it could point you towards developing something else.

This works for smaller features within a project as well. Just roll out a rough cut of it, get feedback, and refine. The product I'm working on (https://www.jqbx.fm) has a live chat feature so it's easy for me to roll out a feature to a subsection of users and ask them about it directly. But even if it's as basic as sitting behind someone at your laptop it's almost always worth your time.

I'm a huge fan of the interview process Ash Maurya recommends in Running Lean. I'd add to that the understanding Jobs to Be done (Read: Competing Against Luck by Christiansen) for an interview process that really get's to the base progress a user/client is trying to make in a given circumstance.

Small-scale test of the general idea. Not even an MVP - test the basic idea as an extreme rough draft. If people respond positively to the general theme, keep testing and building up for that responsive audience. If it's good enough, they'll keep engaging

In my former life I was a product developer.

I liked to tell as many different people about my ideas and get their feedback for if it is dumb or not. In that list of people will at least be a couple who would be in the intended audience.

If the idea is at least positively received, I might make an MVP if it is easy enough, if it isn't, I'll probably abandon it.

If the MVP is stable enough, I'll probably point Facebook or Google Ads at it to drive traffic.

If any traction is gained, I look at the numbers to see if it is worth it to finish building it, or just leave it as it is running.

I'm not sure if the Google/Facebook Ads are still a good traffic driver, but they used to be.

There is only 1 metric I believe we all need to test during ideation. Will people use this? If so, why? This may involve various ways of answering that question. Things like, figuring out your target audience, asking around, taking surveys, asking people to sign-up for updates etc.

I happen to hate searching for such answers, and end up creating MVPs only to realize not enough people want to use it. But I think even before MVP, one must pursue getting some early adopters excited to try it (even if it is for free). For my next project I plan to be thorough (hopefully).

One thing to really watch out for is if the product can be sold profitably or not. Especially in the SMB B2B market many technology products are in great demand, but the CAC is just too high for the product to be viable.

You can get sucked into to creating a product that your customers love, but which can only be sold at a loss once the cost of acquiring the customer is taken into account. After making something that nobody wants (to pay for anyway), this is probably the biggest mistake made by entrepreneurs.

If I get a idea for a project og business idea One of the first things I do is checking if where is existing business or similar and go through what they offer and what where price is or if they make any Next write down what they offer now compare your own idea and ask yourself how can I be different and why should customers choose me instead of the compitors

If it's helpful, I wrote a blog post a while back that can help when deciding which idea to put deeper validation efforts into:


FYI your website is down. Can't access https://nugget.one/

Thanks for the heads up. Should be good to go now.

Step 1: Create a "reverse" income statement to test whether the basic concept is financially viable.

Step 2: Talk to at least 10 potential customers to assess the idea. Make sure most are people who don't feel obligated to be nice to you.

Nothing can beat Excel for checking initial financial assumptions

Discuss about your idea with people, if none of them tells you that they would use your product (without you asking if they will use it or not), then probably no one will ;)

* Google Insights/Trends

* Google Adwords Keyword search tool

These two help in calculating demand of a service or product.

* If you've got contacts, Random Sampled Survey

I look at big companies road map, and do what next thing, only better.

Back testing with stock market data...

My own intuition.


Amazon Mturk has been a good way for me to get the opinion of people on potential products.

Interesting. How would you use it though? Since most Mturks are random people with random background which may lead to incoherent response?

Better than validating it with people you know - who are too homogenous to your own background to be able to give you an accurate picture (assuming your product is for general consumers).

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