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Ask HN: Should you use a fake landing page to validate your idea?
19 points by abetlen 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments
This has come up in HN comments before [1] [2] but I'd like to hear people's thoughts specifically on this topic. Should you use a fake landing page to validate your idea? Specifically landing pages that look like they're for completed products with prices included not "coming soon" pages.

Is it too unethical to study how customers respond to your product without telling them it's not real first?

1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22110004

2. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22382691

It's certainly effective. I once spoke with a guy who founded a relatively large e-commerce biz ($100m+ revenue) and had been exploring a new product. To validate it, he put together an entire webstore complete with an actual checkout - not just a price, but people could actually put in a credit card and pay. He bought a variety of ads for it, collected orders, and then just cancelled all the orders. This essentially allowed him to measure all the numbers he needed to validate whether it would be profitable (ad targeting, conversion rates, etc.) without the cost of having to actually manufacture the product.

The best part of this approach is that you measure actual conversions, and your numbers aren't distorted by people who are only willing to subscribe to a mailing list, or even people who make it all the way to a checkout page before changing their minds. It's purely people who would've actually paid for your product, because they really thought they did.

On the surface it seems sketchy and possibly unethical, but I suppose the inconvenience to the customer is relatively small. They experience a brief disappointment when they see the email telling them the order is cancelled, and that's likely the full extent of your negative impact on them. You could even argue it'd be unethical to yourself / your investors to not validate an idea every way you can before spending lots of time and energy on it.

In some countries this might expose you to being sued. In Argentina if you do that the customer could fill a complain with a government agency that regulates this kind of things, there are rules created to avoid real businesses taking advantage of customers

Interesting, that's probably further than I was even considering.

Part of me is thinking "how upset would I really be if I went to pay for something and got an 'under construction' message at the last minute", probably not that upset. However if I thought I had paid for something and later found out the order was cancelled it would be a different story.

To be fair: you are a startup. You have no name and really nothing to lose at all. Even if all the mentioned stuff would happen (it does usually not in my experience), make a new startup- the idea was validated now

As long as you're prepared to lose all these customers, and take the risk of whatever bad rep it causes, sure. When you weigh the pros and cons, it's better to get the emotional maths right:

Factoring in just the disappointment of a cancelled purchase is not enough. You have to take into account the risk aversion that was overcome to make the purchase (which, in light of the cancellation, turned out to be a wrong move). You have to take into account that now the service is perceived at best as flaky, and at worst dishonest. And that the odds of getting some negative comments online is in direct proportion to the success of your experiment. So that when you do launch a product, that's the information already out there that you have to overcome.

It still may be worth it to test it that way, if your audience is big enough for all of this not to matter.

Personally, I believe at this stage of the game everyone's a bit jaded with explosive growth stories, and it's likelier to build a business based on your first 1000 fans.

Personally, I think it's not ethical. Also, I don't think a fake landing page will actually validate an idea -- true validation takes time and interaction with customers, something that fake landing pages won't offer.

If people are disappointed that they can't actually buy your product, it's only because they want it and can't readily get it by any other means (otherwise they never would have bothered with you in the first place). By validating your idea, you move one step closer to satisfying their wants and needs. If you don't validate your idea, or validate by a slower or less effective method, you are delaying, possibly indefinitely, their ability to purchase what they desire. While some people may react negatively to being "misled" like this, that doesn't change the fact it is objectively in their best interest. Your desire to avoid misrepresentation does no good beyond making you feel better about yourself for having followed an arbitrary moral rule without regard for circumstance. Any ethics system that says go against everyone's best interests to make yourself feel good is dumb.

You don't necessarily need it to be fake. What we did was put up a store button on our app, and when someone clicks it, it prompts a "Sorry, under construction". And then we'd record clicks on the button.

You'll lose a few customers that way, but it's a lot cheaper to validate there over spending a couple months populating the product.

We considered adding on a meal delivery service, and then added a box where you enter your postcode and it tells whether the area is in delivery range. Of course, we didn't start it yet, and no area is in delivery range, but it was valuable data on what cities wanted it and what numbers we'd get.

I'd say the important part is just don't lie to them.

Fair enough, and to clarify that is what I meant by "fake". I guess just fake in the sense that the user clicked through to your page expecting there to be a real product.

I think the problem with this approach is that it only validates the product if you get customers. The average case probably goes like: spend xxxx on adwords, get 0-1 sales. At this point you don't know if your sales pitch is wrong, your product is wrong, you didn't reach the right customers, if the problem doesn't exist, etc etc.

What does your moral compass say? Do you need ethical validation from strangers on HN, most or some of which you don't know?

Personally? I don't know if I'd feel right with it but I also don't work in marketing. I was involved in observing a focus group once for a startup I worked for, but even that felt weird for me.

I'm more interested in what other people here have to say. A lot of HN users have started their own businesses and been involved with startups during product validation. I guess that makes this is as good a place as any to ask strangers what they think.

The closer you’re to reality, the better your funnel will be.

If you just make 2 landing pages, sure you’ll know that A is better than B, but don’t expect to convert many of your A’s signups months after when you launch.

So if your intent is to test idea A vs B, go for it. If you’re pretty clear and want to collect initial users, go a bit further.

Everyone’s morals are different, but I wouldn’t do it. I did it once for a page I got a small traffic and I got one “sale” that I refunded and the whole thing made me not feel good at all. There are better ways!

Any resources you can share that worked better for you?

Well , it’s deception for personal gain ... To that effect it’s somewhere on that immorality spectrum.

Personally, I think one trades morality for gain at the risk of a particularly slippery slope.

I don’t think “fake” is the right word to use because it immediately sounds bad.

Just don’t sell the potential user’s contact info or use it for a project they were not interested in.

Hello Abetlen.

I sort of work in marketing, long story, not the place.

I read the other comments, so my response:

1. I see no point in messing around and not acknowledging it for what it is. It is fake. Although I prefer to describe it as deception. No point beating around the bush. If you are going to do it, at least call it for what it is. Unless of course you state the product isn’t ready.

2. Where I stand is a bit more complicated, and that is not me weaseling my way out of it. The following is also what I say to startups I work with.

3. This attempt at market demand validation has a number of factors that will greatly influence if validation will occur or not. The user Rococode touched on some of the points in his reply. The person he is referring to in his example built a large e-commerce business. He was exploring a new product. This guy either built or had personnel to build him a top notch webstore that gave a sizable impression of a fully functioning website. I assume, based on having a successful e-commerce business that this guy knew the recommended best practices when it comes to a webstore: reviews in the right place, high quality images, trust signals, security signals, etc, etc, the works.

This guy then brought a variety of ads. Again based on the successful e-commerce business I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume he knew which keywords to use, the various factors involved in targeting the right potential buyer (segmentation, buyer intent, etc), had compelling ad copy, decent landing page (and the things needed to make a good landing page), etc, etc.

So, going to the start of this point, market demand validation has a number of factors that will greatly influence if validation will occur or not. And so you have to ask yourself, do you have that skill-set to get those various micro-validations to occur in order for the big main validation to occur?

4. When it comes to idea validation, what does that mean to you, to me it’s too vague. What are the elements of your idea? What exactly are you validating? In order for what I assume is an attempt at market demand validation where there is a button on a website that suggests (in this case) a monetary transaction will take place. It is fair to say you need a decent understanding of the problem, the contributing factors, the root causes, the pain points, motivations, objections and reservations, the solution, the benefits from the solution, the goal and the end-goal.

Now take into account the aforementioned things in point 3, decent landing page, right channel, right segment, right targeting, right keywords (if using ads), etc. How many things, how many micro-validations need to occur in order for the required validation to occur?

5. That example in point 4, is B2C or B2 Small B where the buyer and user are the same. Now take into account if it is a B2 Mid B or B2Enterprise. If the sales approach is to be a bottom up sales approach, and a PQL funnel, which is where you target the end-user bypassing management, because the end-users have the discretion to use their own products, then let’s group that as a B2C or B2 Small B approach as well for arguments sake.

But if this a traditional B2 Mid B or B2Enterprise, then you could be targeting internal champions who may or may not have a small fund of their own. If not, then you have the most complicated, time consuming sales model, multiple stakeholders, etc, etc. So, what exactly is going to be validated here? Market demand? The ones holding the purse strings, very unlikely indeed that you will even be targeting, as for knowing what to say to them? I’ll be polite and say next to no chance.

6. Far too many startups, and far too many people who have experience in these things (and a st load that don’t) keep proposing these shortcuts to validate, when they have either not taken into account, or chosen not to state, the many other things involved in what they think is a controlled experiment. What type of experiment has so many unknowns in it like this?

7. I am in favour of shortcuts, but I like to know what I am cutting out.

8. If what you are proposing is no different from what is already on the market, ie there is nothing unique about your proposition (segment, product, price, positioning, etc, etc, then what’s the point in wasting time? The markets validated.

9. As for your other questions, Any resources one can share that worked better for you? Case by case really. If you want to chat further let me know.

Cheers, Ace.

Maybe it’s unethical if you’re a dog.

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