In my last article, I was explaining why it is important to validate startup ideas before you start the development of your product, and how to do it. This time, I’d like to share some tools and use cases that will help you go through this process.
As validation is not a one-time task but a constant process that should go parallel to the development process. I divided the list into 3 categories, depending on the stage of your product development. Here we go:
Start with research. Seriously, I’ve seen so many startups that build their products without even going through the web. Make sure that you not only find a list of direct competitors, but also get to the places where people discuss the problem. Read articles, forums, and discussion groups before you find and try out your direct competitors. Note how people search for new tools, how they describe the problem and what they miss in current solutions. Focus on understanding how they solve the problem now and what would be the tipping point for them to experiment with new solutions. Make a list of people – by name, email, social media, who are active in those groups.
It’s very probable that some of your competitors (direct or indirect) have raised money and bragged about it. Check the list of business angels and VCs that got involved. Try to reach out, they may be a great source of information and help you raise later.
Most startups hire a lot of people when they succeed. Look at the team size charts for your direct and indirect competitors, understand who’s growing and who’s shrinking and why. It may be a great source of valuable hires for you later in the game. It’s also a great way to generate a list of influencers, competitors, and decision-makers in your field.
Experimenting with keywords and analyzing CPC will tell you how crowded your space is and will let you estimate marketing costs.
See how searches related to your problem trend in SERP.
Keyword research and backlink checkers will help you understand how hard it will be to build your own position.
Alexa will help you understand how your competition gets traffic and point where your future users are.
Get social media mentions related to your problem and competitors, see what and where people are saying to engage and reach out.
See if people are looking for solutions to the problem you’re trying to solve, understand their motivations. In order to do that, read questions, upvote good answers, follow influencers (and move them to closer social networks, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook). Being in touch with real people who are in your target audience helps. It’s your reality check but it also gives you access to people who can test your solution and share feedback with you later on in the process.
Bringing it all together to a model is the most important thing. What’s the point in building a startup if you can’t get to a model that relies on validated assumptions and shows a sustainable business that you’d like to get to?
Pen & Paper
Sometimes the simplest solutions are priceless. Take a pen and a piece of paper and sketch your solution – a flow, UI part, algorithms design. Try to create a proof that you understand the problem and can solve it 10x better than “business as usual”.
Yes, a piece of paper with your name. People still use them at events and this is the time you should go around and talk to people. Focus on your target group rather than startup conferences. If you’re creating a startup within the railway industry, TRAKO is much better than WebSummit.
Bring your sketches to the next level, collaborate with friends, and prepare for coding. UXPin allows you to design lifelike interfaces, prototype with built-in interactions, custom interactions, and animations, and customize elements using CSS code. You can also co-design in the same prototype in real time, comment on elements, and bring clients into the process – they don’t need any account to comment.
Start answering questions, trying to point your approach as the right solution to the problem. If you do it well, you may start driving traffic to your landing page.
Prepare a landing page and start building your community. You can offer reports, webinars, early access, a free consultancy in exchange for an early sign-up.
Lookalike is a great tool to see if there are more people with the problem – just use emails of people that you’ve gathered through your landing page and research. TIP: a lot of people use private email on FB and you’ll only have their business addresses. You can find a private email address when you are connected on LinkedIn – and you should be at that point.
Update your model as you validate more assumptions, implement root-cause approach (e.g. instead of applying a “market standard conversion” of x%, rely on statistics from your landing page).
Sometimes you need to build a PoC, don’t focus on technology, it’s not where your competitive advantage is. Any tech-stack is good at that point. Let your dev team choose whatever will be the fastest to ship. Build just this one thing that makes the change, you can even skip the log-in.
Observing how your users interact with your app is the best way to identify clutches, confusion, and understand what they would really use it for.
Surveys are good, just remember you need a crowd for them to be representative, learn how to prepare good surveys and don’t skip 1-on-1 interviews for them.
At that point, you should be able to start selling. After all, your prototype is what solves your user problem and delivers value, getting paid is the ultimate proof that you are getting somewhere.
Track your users not only on your landing page but also inside your app to see how they get the results they need.
At that point, you should be able to get some interest from your cold contacts. Since people engage with 4th-7th email on the same topic, you should automate your follow-ups and this is just the tool.
Monitor what people say about you, your problem and your competition, engage to drive social selling.
Quickly reach out to the right crowd and measure your conversions, make sure that you use it to validate assumptions on your scalable growth. It’s expensive for a reason and even though it automates a lot, you still need some time to push gathered leads through the sales pipeline.
Your goal is to understand your users deeply. The most valuable thing for you as a founder is to spend time with them, seeing how they use your app, and making sure they benefit from it 10x the effort. In order to do it, schedule 1-on-1 sessions, see what problem is to be solved and how they’re trying to do it with your app, and offer genuine help.
Analyzing app flows and automating communication to ensure better onboarding and customer support are a must with your prototype. You won’t get to the optimal UX before you understand and test your prototype over and over again. Leading your users with direct communication and automating it is the key to success, there’s no better tool than this.
I’ve been discussing lately if there’s any value for a startup to offer a lifetime deal on AppSumo. I’ve concluded that it only makes sense when you’re validating your prototype. AppSumo users often change the apps that they use, this will quickly show you if anyone finds your tool useful and is willing to pay anything to get it. At the same time, you’ll probably lose this user pretty quick as they experiment with new tools very often – which is good, as it’s not a recurring revenue.
What tools should I add to the list and how do you use them to validate your ideas and assumptions?