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3 ways to validate your startup idea without building a damn thing

In my last post, I shared my ideas about MVE’s: Minimum Viable Experiments. To recap, an MVE is a type of experiment that should…

  • require minimal set-up,
  • require minimal cost and materials, and
  • ultimately help you determine whether you’ve got a startup idea worth pursuing, or not.

MVEs are great because they take the focus away from building and shift it towards validating. In fact, I think that the longer you can pursue your startup idea without building anything, the more open you’ll be to new ideas, and the more successful you’ll be when it comes time to execute.

So to help you embrace the validate first, build later mantra, I’ve created a list of three ways to test your startup idea without building a damn thing:

1. Fake door testing

One way you can set-up a fake door test is by creating a landing page for your would-be business, and pointing a few Google Ads or Facebook Ads to the page. If your target demographic clicks on the ads, then you have an indication that there is some interest. If not, then you know your advertised product offering needs to change. You might also want to consider putting a “sign-up for updates” mailing-list form on your landing page too. That way when you are ready to actually build the product you have the email addresses of interested customers.

2. Storyboard Testing

Next, you need to hunt down your target customers and strike up some conversation. I highly recommend checking out local meetups to find potential customers. Are you building a new dating app? Join the local meetup for singles. Want to help busy working parents? I guarantee there are “working moms and dads” groups in your area. Starting a business to make it easier to do DIY car maintenance? Try joining the local car club. Don’t be afraid to try-out Reddit or other online interest groups too.

Then, once you’ve found your people, start up some conversations and show them your storyboard. You’ll want to ask questions, like…

  • Have you ever faced this kind of problem? (Oh yea? Tell me about it.)
  • Do you identify with the character in my story? (how are you the same? how are you different?)
  • Would you be interested in a product like the one in my storyboard?

(For more ideas on how to structure these conversations, you may want to check out my tips on how to conduct an interview.)

Ultimately, you want to validate whether you’ve got the story right. That you have an accurate idea of what the customer need really is. And that you actually have an idea people would be interested in purchasing.

3. Concierge MVP

For example, lets say you wanted to make an app that allows users to request on-demand dog walking services whenever they want it. (It’s Uber for Dogs!) For your concierge MVP you would find a few dog owners, give them your phone number, and tell them that whenever they need a dog walker they should call you. From there you would let the data roll in. From your concierge MVP you’d learn things like …

  • How often do people need a dog-walker?
  • What tasks do they want the dog-walker to perform?
  • How much are they willing to pay?

A concierge MVP is a great way to learn more about the nuances of what your product needs to offer. It’s also a convenient way to collect “real” customers that can provide testimonials when you need them.

Take the “don’t-build a-damn-thing” challenge

Try to take a start-up idea as far as you can without building a thing.

I’ve decided that *I* will be taking this challenge, and I hope you join me. I’ll will start generating startup ideas, conducting MVEs, and documenting my journey in this blog. Hopefully, after conducting the research, I’ll have at least one startup idea worth pursuing. (But if not, at least I’ll know to bail before I go too far!) Be sure to sign-up for the mailing list to get updates along the way.

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Ph.D. in HCI. UX Researcher and Designer. Startup enthusiast. Find me here:

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