We’ve worked with over 200 startups in the past two years, and idea validation is always the one thing we can’t stress enough.
We get it. You’re hyped about this amazing new idea and you think thousands of other people will be hyped about it, too. So you funnel a bunch of time, money, and resources into building a product and hiring a team. This is going to be amazing! You’re totally the next Uber! You start changing and adding features to your product, assuming customers will not only love it — they’ll pay for it.
But what’s that saying about assumptions…?
The thing is, it might truly be an amazing idea. You very well could build the next Unicorn. But until you have proof that your product a) solves a problem, b) is enough of a solution that consumers want to use it, and c) they want it enough to pay for it, then you shouldn’t be planning a national launch, paying thousands of dollars to add fancy features, or doing really anything other than validating your idea. Think of it like roasting an expensive, 20-pound organic turkey for a dinner party, only to find out that all the guests are vegetarians. Or spending hours whipping up the perfect batch of gourmet chocolate chip cookies for your neighbors, only to realize that they don’t eat gluten.
Ok, so maybe we’re hungry…but you get the point. If you launch, change, or try to scale a product without testing your assumptions (validating your idea), you’re putting the cart before the horse.
Customer interviews are literally the easiest (and probably the best) way to get feedback. They give you real insight into whether or not your product has demand, and they tell you exactly what features and functionality prospective users actually want. We recommend conducting 100–200 customer interviews (and we mean customers — not just your friends and family) to get enough unbiased insight before you build a full-fledged product.
So how, exactly, can you get that much feedback in a matter of days?
Here are 6 simple steps to get your idea in front of hundreds of potential customers:
1. Create an online survey
If you don’t have much time to meet people in-person or make a lot of phone calls, send out an online survey. Typeform has some great templates, but simple Google Forms work well, too. You want to ask open-ended questions (rather than ones that can be answered yes or no) to find out things like: Do they experience the problem you’re trying to solve? How does it affect them? Is it a big deal? What do they do to solve it now? How is that going? Is there anything they would change about their current solution? Would they be willing to pay for a solution? Use bit.ly to create a branded shortlink that you can send out via social media and email.
2. Create a list of prospective customers and find out where they “live” online.
No, we don’t mean look up their houses on Google Street View. That’d be creepy. Figure out which sites they use most often and what blogs they’re reading and post your survey link there. Are they active in Facebook groups? Post a link there. Do they regularly use LinkedIn and Twitter? Direct message them. Are they regularly posting on forms like Quora and Reddit? Share your link there (just make sure to read this first so you don’t get eaten alive…). Is there a local or industry-specific blog for your type of product? Share a link the comments section of recent articles.
Keep your messages simple and to the point. Something like: “Hi there! I’m working on a platform/mobile app/website for ___ and would love your insight. We’re not trying to spam you or sell you anything, just doing a bit of research before we launch. Would you mind taking a quick, 2-minute survey?”
3. Now figure out where those prospective customers spend their time IRL and see if you can set up shop there for a few hours.
Let’s say you’re targeting millennial bar-hoppers. Head to a local watering hole at happy hour, ask if you can sit at a front table with a sign (or call ahead to double check with the manager), and let people know you’re collecting feedback for a new bar app. Consider offering an incentive like entering them to win an Amazon gift card or giving them a drink koozie. You can conduct actual in-person interviews and write or record their responses, or you can bring an iPad and have them fill out your online survey on the spot. Gyms, coffee shops, co-working spaces, grocery stores, and other public spots might work, too, depending on your target audience.
4. Conduct good old-fashioned phone calls.
You can use the same list you compiled for LinkedIn and Twitter outreach, or make a list of local businesses that might fit your target audience. Your list should include a minimum of 50 phone numbers, considering that a lot of people will ignore random phone calls. Leave messages if they don’t pick up (you can use a script similar to the sample outreach we shared under #2) and ask them to call you back if they have time to answer a few short questions. In case they don’t call back, make sure to clearly mention where they can take your online survey.
5. Go to industry-related events
This strategy is similar to #3, except you may get even more visibility if the environment is industry-specific and people are already there to network and learn. These could be anything from a large-scale conference to a casual meetup event. Search Eventbrite, Meetup.com, Facebook, your local paper, or local, industry-related websites to find out what’s happening during your “research” phase. If you have the budget, consider sponsoring events to increase your exposure. Ask the event organizers if they’d be willing to send your survey link to their attendees (since, after all, you’re building something that will benefit them).
6. Ask people to share!
Include a simple request for respondents to share your survey when they’ve filled it out. Something like “Thanks so much for sharing your feedback. We really appreciate it. If you know someone else who might be interested in what we’re building, could you please pass this survey along? We’d love to get their insight, too.”
You should also include a link so everyone you reach out to, email, talk to, or stalk online can share via email or social media. Go an extra step and even craft some sample tweets with a click-to-tweet link.