How to Conduct a Market Research Survey for Your Startup Idea

Imagine asking 300 random strangers what they think of your product idea.

Nick Freiling
Oct 16, 2017 · 6 min read

Not your friends, not your colleagues, not your mom. This is a truly rndom set of 300 people, all of whom are willing to listen to your product idea and tell you exactly what they think.

That’s gold.

Otherwise known as a “survey.”

Yes, a boring, roll-your-eyes, get-too-many-of-these online survey.

Seeing these in your inbox might get annoying, but as a market researcher, I can’t adequately express the immense value of a well-done survey. I also know too many entrepreneurs who merely guess. They make decisions with no data about their market.

This doesn’t work.

The first giant step toward turning your product (or service) idea into a viable business concept, and ultimately finding investors, is basic market research. Here, I’ll explain how to design a basic, first-step market research survey to validate your product idea — the same kind we design for our clients at Haven Insights.

OUTLINE

A basic market research survey should answer the following three questions. These are key. Your survey should answer all of them.

  1. Who is my TARGET MARKET?
  2. Is my product idea in DEMAND?
  3. How much are people WILLING TO PAY for my product?

Next, I’ll explain how you can answer these questions with your survey.

TARGET MARKET

You have ideas about your target market. Millenials, doctors, college students, app afficionadoes, craft beer drinkers, etc.

In fact, you probably defined your market early on. Maybe even before you defined your product. And you’re probably convinced you know who wants your product.

But at the end of the day, you need data. Investors aren’t going to rely on a guess — even an educated one. Nor should you.

So your survey should begin by asking a few demographic questions. Gender, age, household income, region. These don’t regard your specific product idea, but they paint a picture of your survey audience so you can learn how different types of people respond to later questions about your product.

Behavioral questions should follow. These uncover facts about your audience’s lifestyle that relate to your product idea.

Is your product an app? Ask about phone use. Is it a pet product? Ask about monthly spend on pets. Is it a coffee product? Ask how much coffee they drink.

Pick four or five relevant questions that you think might affect whether someone will be interested in your product. Be smart. Be creative.

You’ll use these demographic and behavioral questions to “cut” your data when your survey is done fielding.

DEMAND

Gauging demand for your product idea is a two-step process. First, ask about competing or similar products. Do people use competing products? What don’t they like about them? How long have they used them? Where did they first learn about them?

These questions are important. While you can (and will) ask your audience to rate their interest in your product, a survey is limited — respondents cannot actually experience your product idea firsthand. They have, however, used competing products firsthand, and you can learn a lot about demand for your product from their experience with competitors.

Next, present your product concept and ask for first impressions. This is the most delicate and most-often failed part of a market research survey.

This presentation can be a sentence, a paragraph, or even a video. The more descriptive, the better. But don’t make it too long. No one should have to spend more than 20 seconds reading your description, or more than 45 seconds watching your video. Otherwise, response quality will suffer.

Spend a lot of time crafting these descriptions. Go heavy on key terms. The description should be as accurate as possible. Remember, when gauging demand, respondents are rating their interest in the product you describe. So the closer your description matches the actual experience of the product, the better.

Here’s a good description for a hypothetical product:

This is short and sweet, and gets the point across fast. Yes, there are details left out, but that’s OK. The goal here is simply to validate your idea, not refine the specific features of your product. Just be concise and assume your audience believes the product will actually work as intended.

(If you want to get fancy, make three different versions of your product description. Split your survey audience into three groups, and show each one a different description. Then see how answers change between the groups.)

After you’ve presented the product, ask this question:

Answer options include a five-point scale — 1 (not at all likely) to 5 (extremely likely).

All who select not at all likely should be asked just one more open-ended question, then leave the survey. That question: Why would you not consider buying __?

Everyone else continues to the next section of the survey.

WILLINGNESS TO PAY

Finally, gauge respondents’ willingness to pay for your product. Use a Van Westendorp — a set of four specific, open-ended questions that will give you a holistic perspective on how much your audience is willing to pay. The questions are:

That’s it!

There’s one major exception to using Van Westendorp. If your product isn’t something your audience has experience buying (i.e. there’s nothing remotely similar on the market), they won’t know how to answer these questions. You’ll get huge distributions of answers, and ultimately won’t have enough information to make a decision about price.

In that case, you need to guide your audience a bit. Ask this question:

…five times, one for each price listed below:

  1. 25% below break-even cost.
  2. 10% below break-even cost.
  3. Break-even cost.
  4. 10% above break-even cost.
  5. 25% above break-even cost.

If possible, randomize the order of these questions so they aren’t presented from lowest-to-highest, or highest-to-lowest (this kind of randomization should be a standard feature of any major survey platform).

If you don’t know your break-even cost, that’s fine. Just guess. The point here is to validate your idea — to see whether people want it, and whether they’d be willing to pay for it. You need to know this before you invest any more time on this idea.

Finally, some notes.

NOTES

  1. To program your survey, use a major platform. SurveyMonkey and SurveyGizmo are both great and very low-cost. You’ll use these tools often, so they’re worth the investment.
  2. To launch your survey, use a panel provider (like people.fish). These companies will send web traffic to your survey. It’s cheap.
  3. To analyze your survey, use your platform’s built-in tools. Both SurveyMonkey and SurveyGizmo have great reporting tools that make analysis fast and easy.
  4. Make a PowerPoint of your best graphs. Show it to friends, colleagues and potential investors. This looks impressive, and sets your idea apart from others — it’s no longer just an idea, but a validated product concept.
  5. Finally, if you’re serious about your survey, run it by a professional. I’d be happy to look at it, both before and after launch.

Startup Grind

Stories, tips, and learnings from and for startups around…

Startup Grind

Stories, tips, and learnings from and for startups around the world. Welcoming submissions re: startup education, tech trends, product, design, hiring, growth, investing, and more. Interested in submitting? Visit our submission form here: https://airtable.com/shrShpeN89HrzCzOB

Nick Freiling

Written by

Founder: PeopleFish 🚀 | Building: MailThis, SurveySays | Dad³

Startup Grind

Stories, tips, and learnings from and for startups around the world. Welcoming submissions re: startup education, tech trends, product, design, hiring, growth, investing, and more. Interested in submitting? Visit our submission form here: https://airtable.com/shrShpeN89HrzCzOB

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