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Validation, Feedback and Testing the Market: Always Start with 3

“Look, Lindsay, we’re not the kind of people that turn heads when we walk into a room,” he said to me. I laughed. My college-aged insecurities agreed.

It’s amazing how a single person’s comment can leave such an impression, it’s like a fire-heated mark left on a cow…it brands you for a lifetime.

I know what you’re thinking; something like, “That’s terrible.” or, as a friend said recently, “You be turning heads like The Exorcist.” What’s important to note is:

A single person’s opinion can throw you off both personally and professionally.

It wasn’t the only time I’ve let one person’s opinion drive my decision making. But, in my 30s, I’ve adapted a lesson from market & customer research:

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If one person says it, it’s an anecdote. If two people say it, it’s a coincidence. If three people say it, it’s a theme to address.

When you’re developing digital products, a business idea or sussing out a new brand for your startup, it’s important to talk to a variety of people. You cannot listen to one loud user.

Is 3 Really Enough? A Brief Case Study

David booked 30 minutes with me during the monthly office hours I offer at a local university. He was the epitome of a bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed college student confident in his ideas. He needed help getting all of his thoughts out of his head into a business plan competition application. Yet, he also had fully detailed designs to begin app development at the end of the month.

If this kid could not detail his business model, exact value proposition and how he was going to get customers, why is he already building a product?

It was clear to me immediately that he followed the eager entrepreneur’s failure-ridden playbook:

  • “I have an idea!”
  • Solicit input from family & friends
  • Do market & customer research poorly
  • Selectively hear only feedback they want
  • Over-confidently bulldoze through product development

Moving too quickly through early customer research and validation increases the risk you’ll face later in your journey. If you do not know:

1 — Your Earlyvangelist (has a problem, is aware of the problem, is looking for a solution, is not satisfied with existing solutions so is DIY-ing their own, but is willing to pay for your janky solution that’s 5% better…)

2 — The Most Valuable Problem (the problem so painful that your earlyvangelist is willing to give up time, money and/or data to you for your solution)

… then everything else that follows — the mockups David desperately wanted to show me, the tens of hundreds of restaurant owners he swore he talked to, the multiple revenue ideas— everything else that follows is based on faulty logic.

So what should David do? Just go validate his idea with 3 people?

Given so much of his business rides on this initial stage, I suggest many more than 3.

My advice:

  • Interview at least 10 but probably 30 people to understand the problem space from their point of view.
  • Don’t stop interviewing until you identify 5–7 people that fit the Earlyvangelist definition 👉🏼 That’s 5–7 people that share the same Most Valuable Problem.

After David finds these Earlyvangelists and can identify the Most Valuable Problem, detailing his business plan, the initial features, the design, etc should all be a cinch. Without this information, I can’t direct him on a strategy.

So 3 is good…when?

Validating at 3 is good enough when you’re addressing major and minor usability issues, content updates and tweaks to your visual design. You want more than 3 when large business assumptions and significant financial investments are at stake.

Here are the types of situations in which 3 is good, even great:

  • A Sales 1-Pager or Leave Behind
  • The placement of a link, the text on a button, or a non-critical page like the user profile
  • Social Media Bios and Updates to Your LinkedIn Profile
  • Pithy Branding Statements & Your Elevator Pitch
  • New Icons & Color Palettes
  • Any other small adjustments to your product

The key to making sure those 3 opinions are of the utmost value is making sure those 3 opinions all come from the same user/customer persona.

A Note on Patience

One of the reasons entrepreneurs over-confidently bulldoze through initial customer research and product development is because SOLVING and CREATING are exhilarating and fun. Talking about the future and your big ideas is such a rush!

Sticking in the nitty-gritty details of the problem, digging through the data, and being uncertain of the exact focus in the early stages? That’s anxiety producing. That’s uncomfortable. That’s exactly why Albert Einstein says:

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“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” — Albert Einstein

Stay with the problem longer and you gain a clear advantage.

This is why I say:

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Eliminate the Guesswork: Marinate in the problem. Pickle yourself in it…without getting into the solutions

  • If you are in the very early stages and need to test the market and develop a plan,
  • If you want to see what you built is right, and if it isn’t, want to know what the market wants instead of or in addition to your product,
  • If you have the prototype ready and need to validate with beta users,

I’m here for you! Set up a time with me to talk for 45 minutes. We can whiteboard and figure it out.

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I ensure startups sell the right product before building the wrong one. I work 1:1 with founders to upskill them on product, marketing & fundraising.

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