10 Steps to validate your business idea.

Rupert - Validate founder

So you've had the eureka moment. Lighting struck and you gave birth to an idea, but you're a little unsure whether it's a good one? You worry that it may already exist and if not, why not? Perhaps you simply don't know who would pay for it, or even how to start bringing it to life. Well we have a few tips to help you along the way.

Below is a check-list we’ve put together to help you evaluate your idea. We’ll try our best to keep this article up-to-date.

1. Are you solving a clear problem? Find your market size.

Today there are more products on the market than we know what to do with. By solving a problem you’re trying to find a niche or market that hasn’t been tapped into; or at least, has room for improvement.

Now the key is to make sure that you are solving an actual problem. Be subjective and altruistic in defining the problem. It needs to be a problem that exists and not one that you think exists. Here’s a link to a few examples of products that lived a very short life. The reason is that these brands tried to solve problems which never really existed. Google Glass is a prime example.

Google glasses seemed novel and futuristic. They tried to launch during the golden age of the mobile phone. They were challenging human behaviour. However, they simply got it wrong. Humans were content with their phones, they weren’t prepared to walk around wearing a very visible head piece unless it really had a purpose. This is why validating the problem is so important and why you need to do the research and due diligence first.

On our planet we have problems of all shapes and sizes, so there’s no shortage on issues to solve. Take the sheer amount of plastic we’re consuming, as an example. As a species we’re not thinking ahead, leaving plastic to drift in our seas and lie buried in our land. This is becoming an ecological crisis. Many companies are now trying to solve this by using recycled plastic in their products and finding new materials made from organic compounds that will decompose. This problem provides a huge space for opportunity and innovation; a market.

To determine the market size you simply need to work out who will benefit from your solution, so build a list and go right the way down the supply chain, really dig deep. Try and think of every type of person or industry that could benefit. Is it consumers, businesses, governments… Is it globally scalable, or more local. Then from this you can prioritise those who might benefit the most from your solution.

2. Who benefits from your solution? Find your ‘super users’.

The dream for any entrepreneur is to get a customer before you start building anything. Think of this as a pre-order; someone who will buy your product or service, when it’s live. However, it’s no easy feat to find a customer before you’ve made a product as you really need to sell your vision. You have to be a good communicator.

You’ll also need to go out and find that someone who’s willing to buy your vision. It’s good practise to do this first as you’ll need to do this anyway once you’ve built the product. It’s then called marketing. So think of this as your trial run. It’s a good exercise as it forces you to think about what it actually is that you’re selling. It focuses your thinking as you need to explain your idea to someone else in the shortest way possible. If you can’t explain your idea in one sentence then you’re likely to lose their attention.

This is often known as your elevator pitch. If you strike gold and find a customer then it instantly validates your idea, as long as they’re not pulling your leg. You’re then making your product for a customer who needs it. Now of course, if it’s not a sure fire way to determine if it will be a success, but it is a good gauge. One probably isn’t enough as you’ll likely want a lot of customers, however it reduces your risk of building something that no-one needs.

In order to do this it’s a good idea to put a pitch deck together and then spend time finding your prospects, or potential customers. This is called gathering leads. Start by tapping into your close network and then broadening your search. Make sure you ask your leads the right questions so you get valuable insights and not ifs and maybes. There’s a great book about how to do this called The Mom Test. We’ll elaborate on this a little later.

This approach can be tough as without something tactile to demo, buyers can be dismissive. However, give it a go!

3. If you’re not the first, then what makes you best?

You don’t need to have something entirely unique by any means. Take coffee shops; every week there’s new artisanal cafe popping up on the radar. You’d think the market would be saturated, but yet these cafes are resilient, expanding day-on-day. Now this is partly due to our growing need for caffeine to help us endure the 9-5. Coffee has become embedded in our daily routine. We each prefer one brand over another and this is down to the subtle nuances, whether it’s the coffee blend, dietary requirements, price, sustainability, proximity to your office, the ambience or staff… the list goes on. We simply love choice.

These nuances are actually the product that’s being sold. Each cafe’s positioning stems from their product, which could be any mix of all these benefits or values. Coffee is an industry in itself, but running a cafe sits within the retail market. Within the retail market you have food and drink and within that you have further categories to compete on, like sustainability, quality, price etc… Each of these markets attracts a specific customer.

The order in which you prioritise these benefits is key. This becomes the value proposition. Those coffee shops that tend to be more successful are often the ones who establish what they stand for, from day one. They also know how to communicate their benefits to the right audience – their brand positioning. And so the journey into advertising and branding begins, which we won’t get into in this article.

So do your market research and see who else is trying to solve the same problem. You can then find a way to position your business and set it aside from your competitors. The world’s a big place and there’s always a market out there, maybe not in your country or speaking your language, but somewhere. Your job is to know what you’re solving and find the audience who will benefit the most.

4. What are the risks? Do your S.W.O.T analysis.

What is SWOT analysis? Well here’s a good article explaining the details, but essentially it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s a concise document that you can read through methodically and use as a check-list.

This is a tried and tested methodology for validating ideas. It helps you uncover the magnitude or size of the problem you’re solving, which is usually a good indicator of the market size. However, with the larger problems, comes the likeliness that there’s competition and someone else has got there first. Don’t let that put you off as you may still be able to find your niche.

5. Are you solving a problem in your industry?

Lowest hanging fruit are easiest to reach. Often solving problems that are a little closer to home can be a lot safer. In your industry you have the experience. You know what needs changing and probably, what solutions are available. Over the years working in your industry you’ve likely built up a good network. These are connections who can help you validate your idea.

So, are you solving a problem in your industry or one you’re not familiar with? If you’re moving into new territory that’s fine, but it might take a little more energy to do the ground work.

6. Is your idea dependant on technology or the latest trends?

Times are changing, all the time. The great thing about the future is that it’s unknown. You may discover or anticipate a potential change in human behaviour brought around by a new technology or a global event.

With the outbreak of Covid-19, we had quarantining which gave birth to the Zoom era. I know what you’re thinking, video calling has been around for donkeys years, and you’re right. However, Zoom capitalised on our world wide quarantine. And with investment, they simply said they were going to be the best video conferencing tool out there. Fuelled by ambition and accelerated by the perfect conditions for which video calling thrives; they hit top of the charts.

So just like that, human behaviour can change in an instant and with that is the need to adapt, and for products to help us do so.

Follow the latest news and trends to stay up-to-date. It’s another way to seek out a market before anyone else. But do so with caution, make sure your idea has longevity. If you’re building a Facebook bot and Facebook decide to change their policy, this could damage your business. A lot of businesses are reliant on 3rd party apps or software, so this will be one of your SWOT risks. Being reliant on software or technology has its pros and cons, just be aware of this.

7. Find a critic, your toughest critic.

Your friends and family want to support you. So you can imagine that any feedback/ data you get from them will be biased.

It’s important to reach out to your toughest critics. Friends and family are a great starting point, but you know that they’ll probably tell you what you want to hear. You might want to hear praise, but you shouldn’t look for it. In fact you want the opposite. You want the pessimists in the world, those who are going to give you honest feedback. You want to hear about the negatives and the problems, before you get too deep and discover them when it’s too late.

This doesn’t mean you have to listen to every piece of advice, but definitely consider it. Listening to people is the best way to make a great product. Listen to their problems, solutions and any insights they can share. It’s then up to you to decipher this data and work out what you’ll discard VS what you’ll use.

8. Don’t be scared of someone stealing your idea, be precautious.

So many times I’ve heard friends and colleagues saying that they haven’t pursued an idea because they’re worried someone will steal it. First of all, there’s a simple solution: get them to sign an NDA. But secondly, bringing the idea to life is the hardest part. People have great ideas all the time. What separates the entrepreneurs from the average Joe is that they take on the challenge to pursue their idea which can cost time, relationships and money. This usually puts off the other 99%. This is why I would always advise people not to be too concerned about someone taking your idea.

Another way to think about it is that the odds are already against you, so if you’re worried about others stealing your idea, just think that they will likely have the same odds against them. So if this is holding you back from finding a partner and taking your first steps then I say, take the chance.

I’m not suggesting you go out and tell the world about your idea before it’s made. Of course not, you need to be careful. But if you’re holding back from telling friends about your idea for fear they’ll steal it then I would say do it.

It’s better to have won and lost then to never have won at all.

9. Ask lots of questions. Surf forums and social networks.

Research, research and research. Trawl the web for places to ask questions. Ask people what their problems are and put the feelers out. Q and A until you can do it no more! One of my guilty pleasures is a show called Silicon Valley, and without spoiling the series, a team create a product made by developers, for consumers. Only when they launched and tested it they realised they were too late. They had designed a product that was almost unusable for the average person.

The lesson from this is to always broaden your vision. Get an extra perspective on your ideas so that you’re being objective and not just building something for you that you ‘think’ will be useful for others. This goes back to what I was saying earlier.

You always need to think about your users and the end customer. This is why surfing the web for Facebook groups and forums where your prospective audience might be, is a great place to start.

10. MVP – Just go ahead and make something.

An MVP is your minimal viable product. So what are the minimal requirements for your product to be useful or viable to your customer? What can you do for the least cost and effort, that allows you to validate your idea?

I once had a client come to me and ask for a video to use as a piece of crowd funding content. I asked why? Client said that they had a social messaging tool they wanted to make and sell to their clients. They thought that it would be easier to launch a Kickstarter campaign and make a film, build a page, write a press release and reach out to hundreds of people for support and all this in order to have a very slim shot at getting some funding.

My answer; “Don’t hire us to make a video. Use your money to build an MVP”.

Quite frankly I think some people believe that building a prototype will rack up tens of thousands, but more often than not, it’s simply not true. Funding it yourself initially can be the best route and far less complicated than reaching out for investors. If you’re not willing to risk your own money, then it’s likely that investors will think the same.

There’s a great book, which is well known in the startup industry called The Lean Startup – The principal behind the book is all about building your MVP and testing, before you plough all your time and resources into something that may or may not be a hit. So, if you’re launching a new type of self powering microwave then I imagine it’s a little tricker and you need funding, plus a good patent. If you’re not reinventing the wheel then get something basic and testable to validate your idea.

Go get em tiger!

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