1. Sell The Future
Dropbox built a waitlist of over 70,000 users by selling the vision through an explainer video. Founder Drew Houston created a clickable prototype that covered Dropbox’s key benefits which attracted the attention of the media, investors and tens of thousands of users.
The features explained in the video weren’t going to be ready for at least a year, however, the experiment proved the viability of the product and need for the solution. Even though it took months and the work of several engineers to build the product, Drew managed to quickly design, create and record the prototype to validate the idea before product development.
The founders of the social media management platform, Buffer, followed a similar approach. They didn’t use a video, though. The team invested heavily in content marketing for the first year which helped them build an audience and refine their hypotheses. They created a website that described their product and value proposition. When users created an account and submitted their payment information, they were told the product is not ready yet. This experiment proved the need for the product.
Especially for a startup app idea where the product differentiation is a technological innovation, use an experiment that can help you sell the future. If you need funding, this will attract investors. In fact, Dropbox used the video as part of their application to Y Combinator.
2. Simulate The Product
For another layer of idea validation, design a solution delivery process even before building a product. Zappos started with an online store ready for business even though the founders didn’t have manufacturing and distribution channels. They used the site to accept orders while fulfillment was done by purchasing the product from local stores. The food on-demand app, Doordash, started with a landing page that included restaurants and menus while the orders and delivery was done by the founders.
This can also be done for startup app ideas with a technological innovation. Before building their product, the founders of the security platform, Tinfoil Security, started with a website that allowed users to submit their website for security scanning. When they received a submission, they manually created and sent the reports. This experiment served to validate the riskiest assumptions even though the Tinfoil Security team had the technical expertise to build the product since the beginning.
3. Use A Questionnaire
A lot of people may express a need for your product and will even join the waitlist, but this doesn’t guarantee they will use and pay for it. One of the simplest experiments that you can run to test your idea is through questionnaires.
This experiment requires product design, a website, traffic and a relatively long questionnaire. Product designs and the website serve to convey the value proposition of your product just like the Buffer example shared earlier. The hypothesis is, if leads are genuinely interested in the product, they won’t mind taking 15 minutes to answer a long questionnaire about their needs and product expectations to get an early access or a free upgrade. The experiment will provide stronger signals if the questionnaire ends with a prepayment for the upcoming product.
For this experiment to provide you with the data you need to make educated conclusions, you need traffic. Buffer used content marketing to drive visitors, the video of Dropbox went viral through Hacker News, and the founders of Doordash distributed flyers on campus. Depending on your target and business model, these three marketing channels can be effective for you too. Here are three other channels.
- Events are a great way to gather people with similar interests and needs around your idea especially if you are the host. Events allow you to build and strengthen relationships while giving and getting value. Use it to gather feedback and presell the product.
- You can test any of the experiments above with the help of an influencer or a thought leader with an audience that fits in your target customer profile. Through shared webinars and email campaigns, your experiment will get the exposure you need to run successfully.
- Social media ads will send you traffic almost instantly. If you have funds to invest in paid acquisition, you can leverage Facebook or other platforms to get targeted leads to your key page. It may be a testing period worth your investment especially if you are launching a product with a unique competitive advantage with a low acquisition friction.
An idea validation experiment can take just a few weeks to run. The insights that can be gained from this short period can set you on the right path to building a profitable startup with customers that love and recommend your product. It’s an investment worth making.