Fake Doors MVP

Tomer Sharon
Dec 28, 2016 · 7 min read
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People who have an idea for a new product have two ways of finding out if potential customers want it: they either launch a landing page or ask people if they want it.

A landing page usually includes key benefits and a screenshot of the product. Data collected includes email addresses of people who are interested. If conversion rates of people giving their email address divided by landing page visits are high enough, a decision is made to develop the product.

Asking potential customers if they want the product, feature, or service is considered as a healthy process in many organizations. A common practice includes sending a team with a new product idea to the organization’s top customers. The team then passionately describes the idea and asks for feedback. Would you use it? Would you pay for it? How much? What features do you want? If 10–15 customers show interest, the organization goes ahead and develops the product.

These two activities are seductive to startups and huge corporations alike. They feel science-y and data-ish. An entrepreneur or product manager having a customer tell her he wants her product is inherently validating during a time when the entrepreneur or product manager is vastly insecure about what she’s building and is desperate for someone to compliment the product. It’s innately human.

Don’t be tricked. This kind of “research” will mislead you and waste your time, as it’s profoundly wrong, unreliable, and invalid. Startups tend to launch a landing page, thinking it’s the right way to learn if people need their product. The problem is that the only question landing pages answer is “Are people interested enough to give us their email address?” They learn nothing about what people want or need. Humans have no idea what they need and will almost always be nice to people who ask them. It doesn’t cost them much to be nice and say it’s a great idea.

That said, not everything is black and white when you ask “Will you use this?” Some people do actually know — for example, specialists (like doctors) in fields with atrocious user experiences where there are obvious design opportunities.

Fake it ‘till you make it

For example, imagine a grocery store website. If the store is thinking about developing a grocery shopping app and wants to know whether customers are interested or not, a call-to-action button could be added to the website. The button might be labeled as “Download our shopping app.” The store would have a powerful decision-making tool at hand if it saw a large ratio of people who clicked the button and divided that by those who were exposed to it.

The Fake Doors technique is a powerful, quick, waste-reducing way to find out if people want a product, feature, or service. The following are three ways to design a Fake Doors experiment.

Landing page

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A typical (bad) landing page

The button to nowhere

404 testing

Would Google do it?

My point is simple: if you work for or founded an organization that is willing to experiment and does not have half the world watching every step you make, go for it and use Fake Doors studies. Just do yourself a favor and don’t be nasty. Never intentionally lead to a 404 page only because you want to learn. Have the courtesy to admit it and apologize for not having the product available. Be open about it. Thank the people who help you learn, and if you can, give them a small gift as a gesture.

Determine a Fake Doors threshold

When you decide in advance what the ratio (or dollar value) is that will make you want to develop the product or feature, you have a powerful research tool that drives decisions at hand.

Validation

Invalidation

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I have never seen ONE entrepreneur that got rejected by the sharks and said he or she is dropping their idea. Not even one.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that after you learn people don’t want your product you should stop chasing your dream and vision. Not at all. I am calling you to pivot, to make informed decisions that will help you change your idea (or your communication about it) a little bit so that it appeals to your intended audience.

Why Fake Doors work?

  • Good for evaluating single, very small features through very specific services to entire product suites.
  • Reduces the risk of wasting time on expensive product development.
  • Keeps you from delivering features, products, and services your customers don’t really want.
  • Forces you to start speaking the language that resonates with customers, practice, and perfect it.

Tomer Sharon is the author of Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research. Get a 20% discount when you purchase the book directly at Rosenfeld Media while using the code tomernews.

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