How do you quickly validate your customer’s needs? Although we have highlighted the importance of validation for launching a commercially viable product, we will briefly cover it, as the goal of our series of product analytics articles is to help you navigate the post-validation phase of product development. As already seen, one of the main drivers for creating a product is an unvalidated need identified via observations (perceived demand) or from explicit statements (explicit demand). Today we’ll help you understanding how to validate those needs in two simple steps.
Step 1: Formalize your hypothesis.
As professor Steve Blank from the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University and author of the Startup Owner’s Manual puts it, “rather than engaging in months of planning and research, entrepreneurs accept that all they have on day one is a series of untested hypotheses—basically, good guesses.” So the first step is to make sure you list the problems or needs your solution will address. Who are the people who suffer the most from such problems or needs — your core users? And why will they use your product? Again, these are all hypothesis, so you might try to list two or three potential groups.
Step 2: Get out of the building and test those hypotheses with the potential customers you’ve identified.
You can do that through customer interviews aimed at validating the problems or needs you’re addressing. Rule #1: Don’t talk about your product/solution at this stage as it’s important to concentrate on validating a problem before pitching your solution. If there’s no problem, then there’s no need for a solution. You want to make sure there’s a real problem for the solution you intend to build. By pitching, or even referencing your idea early on you will only bias discussions with potential customers. For example, you might ask “if I build X, will you buy it.” Not so good. Rather, you might ask “How do you think your problem could best be solved? Can you walk me through the steps you’d take to solve it?”
Another rule is to avoid probing during the interviews. Ask open ended questions that will make the problems emerge, but do your best to keep the questions within a relevant context. So instead of coming up with a list of problems and asking people to rate them, ask them to tell you about the hardest part of performing a job (the job your solution will help them get done). For example, if you’re building an app that will help amateur tennis players who are not members of any club schedule matches, you’d ask them what’s the hardest part of scheduling a match and they might say, finding courts available, finding partners or paying the club membership fees.
After identifying the problems or the barriers blocking them from “scheduling a match”, try go deeper into each one of these barriers. Start by asking “why is it hard to find partners?”. They might tell you that it’s hard to find people with matching schedules and that very often when you do find, they don’t have the same skill level as you. After that, ask “how often does it happen?” as it will give you an idea of the frequency of the problem, which can be used as a proxy for how often they will use your app.
It’s also important to understand the impact of the problem, in terms of money or time. This will help you quantify the problem, and eventually support your value proposition and even your pricing strategy. After a couple of interviews, if you see a pattern emerging within your selected target group, you can stop your validation and move on to the next step. On the contrary, if you don’t see any pattern arising, or if the people you’re interviewing don’t consider the problem or need to be critical, you should stop and think of doing something else with your time and money.
After learning how to validate your customer’s needs, the next step is to make sure your solution can solve your customer’s problems. Check out our article on how to prototype and test your solution with your prospect users. To get notified when our next article is out, please sign up to our newsletter.