This type of foreboding statistic is becoming more common in business conversations, but have you ever stopped to think about the reasoning behind such dire figures? Often it’s because the startup skipped a vital step in the process: idea validation.
In other words, most startups fail because founders assume their idea is golden. They develop a revolutionary concept (or so they think) and work like crazy to launch it. But they don’t spend time consulting real-life customers to validate the idea itself.
The failed investment-aggregator startup Monitor110 provides a classic example of an unvalidated idea. In a blog post about the downfall of Monitor110, investor Roger Ehrenberg wrote the company was “not close enough to the customer” and “slow to adapt to market reality.” Instead of rolling out a rough-around-the-edges version and getting customer feedback, startup leaders opted to spend their time and money creating what they believed was the most compelling product possible. They never validated their bold idea, and that error proved to be a factor in their demise.
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Monitor110 and too many other defunct startups fail to realize the importance of soliciting early feedback from users. Most companies never ask the basic question, “Are people actually interested in our product?” It’s simple almost to the point of being insulting. That doesn't change the fact it's also extremely vital to your success.
Done correctly, idea validation can let a startup know if an idea has real market potential, needs tweaking or should be completely scrapped. While customer feedback is invaluable throughout a startup’s life, it’s especially important early on. At this stage, you can use feedback to mold your product into a solution for your customers' pressing needs.
That said, you can’t simply conduct a survey for a few days and rely on that. Idea validation thrives on a wide variety of customer feedback. Your product stands to see the greatest improvement if you get detailed opinions from a large group of people. Ask them what they need from the product. Then, analyze common trends and modify your product to fit those needs.
Here are a few ways to validate your idea the right way.
1. Conduct beta testing.
Send your product out in the world and into the hands of its target audience. You’ll get invaluable feedback from the right people. Their impressions and input will enable you to mold the product to meet your users’ needs. That’s more than any market research ever could accomplish.
2. Embrace the lean philosophy.
Eric Ries’ seminal book, "The Lean Startup," proved rolling out your minimal viable product (MVP) early will create a vital feedback loop. Don’t focus so much on product development that you neglect customer engagement. Create a working prototype and launch it, even if only to a small group.
3. Validate everything -- even your brand.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking only your product needs validation. Examine everything from your brand to your website copy. Observe how users react to every aspect. Making changes based on these suggestions helps you improve not only your product but also your brand as a whole.
The best startups aren’t made in a bubble. You need feedback from the flesh-and-blood customers you’re targeting. If your idea is no good, you’ll be able to abandon ship much sooner and suffer fewer losses. Validating means finding the best product/market fit and shaping your startup around your customers’ needs. The ultimate result is a better brand for you and your product.