The overwhelming majority of startups fail, with the number one reason being the lack of product/market fit. In other words, most startups fail to identify a problem worth solving, and are unsuccessful in meeting market demands. To make matters worse, most founders come to this realization after months of hard and fruitless work. Usually once they burn through their budget and have nothing to show for it.
Fortunately, there are actionable steps that you can take to maximize your chances for success.
While developing your idea, you establish certain assumptions. For example:
- People will be interested in using our product
- People will be willing to pay for our product
- People will use our product in a certain way
The issue with these assumptions is that they are entirely unproven, and you’re using them as foundation for your entire business. If they turn out to be false, your future startup will collapse like a house of cards. Founders tend to get wrapped up in their ideas. They’re eager, passionate, and often impatient. Instead of doing their homework, they want to create things. But most importantly, they don’t want to poke holes in their idea. Nobody likes to be proven wrong.
There's nothing unbecoming about that, it's just human nature. But now you know better, and luckily, there are actions you can take to better understand whether your idea is grounded in reality. By using the scientific method, you can test your assumptions before spending a dime on designers, developers, and servers.
To measure real-world demand for your product, you first need to leave your comfort zone and start talking with your future customers. And by talking, I mean listening. As Steve Blank puts it: get out of the building.
To get the ball rolling, you can start by talking with your friends and family. This is a good way to warm up for upcoming meetings, cold emails, and battles with secretaries. Not only is your inner circle easy to reach, but talking to people you know is way less stressful than approaching strangers for the first time. Depending on the product, you might receive some valuable information this way. Just keep in mind that your loved ones may not be as sincere with you as you might expect. No person wants to be the one who crushes your dreams.
The next step is talking with relevant people in what you think is your target market. They will be your future customers. If you're in the business of making wire-framing apps for designers — go talk to some designers. Don’t restrict yourself to people you know, seek designers from all areas. Visit small next-door creative studios, and then talk with people from huge corporations. Designers in smaller studios might suffer from different kinds of problems compared to designers in corporate settings. Find out what’s bothering them, what their pain points are, where do they hurt the most. How can your product relieve their pain?
Face-to-face customer feedback refines or validates every component of the startup's business model, not just the product itself.
-- Steve Blank
Before you talk with people, make sure they understand you aren't trying to sell them anything. You are only validating your idea; the only thing you need right now is information. Tell them about your product, and ask if they are interested in using it. Some folks won't be interested in using your product even if it’s free. How's that for a dream crusher? If they are interested, ask how much a product like yours is worth to them. Ask if they want to keep in contact, or even follow the development process. This is a great way to create evangelists before your product goes public.
Be aware that these people are giving you their time, so make sure to offer something in return. Go ahead and share some of your own insights and experiences. Always be respectful and thank them for the interview. Now go home with your new-found knowledge and see how it stands up against your assumptions. If they’re in-line, you might be on the right track. If not, it’s time to give yourself a reality check.
Another good way to confirm your idea is viable is by setting up a test landing page for your product. It can be a simple one page website where you present your product and urge people to sign up, click on a call-to-action button, or perform some other action that shows buying intent. The page should be designed well, and it should clearly convey values you're bringing to the customer. Use Squarespace or something similar to create the website, there’s no need to hire a web designer.
You’re probably asking yourself: why create a landing page for a product that doesn't even exist yet? The point of this experiment is to see whether people are willing to pay for your product in the first place.
Set up analytics and track potential customers who visit your website. How much time are they spending on the website? How many are signing up for your service? Are any of them actually clicking the call-to-action button? If you’re receiving the right kind of traffic but nobody is showing purchase intent, you should think twice before continuing with product development.
Even if you’re confident you came up with the greatest startup idea ever.
Even if you hate doing homework and love getting down to business.
Even if you’re an introvert, and talking with strangers makes you anxious.
You should take the time to test your assumptions and make sure your idea has enough potential to be transformed into a viable business.
If if turns out your assumptions were wrong, you will end up saving tons of time and money.
If it turns out your assumptions were correct, you will be equipped with an even better understanding of your customers, resulting in a stronger product/market fit.
After you’ve validated your idea, learn about The best places to look for remote tech talent.