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20 Questions on Product Validation

Published by Brian Love on
20 Questions on Product Validation
20 Questions on Product Validation

“The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.

Think big anyway.”

The first step is thinking big. The second step is validation. So, how do we validate a digital product?

Let's answer this question with more questions - specifically, 20 more questions.

What is product validation?

Product validation is a systematic approach to measuring a concept with potential customers. This is the moment of truth - if you build it, will they come?

Product validation does not ensure the success of a business or product. Far from it. It only enables you to have insight into the validity of a concept. It's very likely that your concept is not valid, or, perhaps that your concept needs to pivot.

Why is product validation necessary?

Product validation is necessary to understand your target customer. Without product validation, a startup will waste time - and money.

When should I validate?

As early as you can. A drawing on a napkin will do - starting validation of a product does not require sophisticated wireframes, user requirements, high-fidelity mockups, or an impressive presentations. Presenting concepts that invoke meaningful feedback is the key.

How often should I validate?

Product validation should be an ongoing part of your design process that occurs after each iteration of a prototype.

At LiveLoveApp, we use Google's approach to design sprints that is a sequence of the following steps:

  1. Understand
  2. Define
  3. Sketch
  4. Decide
  5. Prototype
  6. Validate

There it is - after each iteration of a prototype when building a product we always want to validate the concept with real users.

How do I find early adopters?

Not everyone is your target customer. I mean, it's likely not your mum - she's likely going validate every concept. That's not very useful.

Early adopters are interested in providing influence on the development of an early technology in return for prestige, gaining a competitive advantage, or having lifetime access to a product. Early adopters may be within the reach of your network, but they are likely one or two degrees removed. Strategies such as pre-release, invite-only access, and possibly, lifetime access can lure early adopters to your product. An often overlooked but valuable strategy for getting the attention of your early adopters is through direct communication channels for your industry and your target customers such as online groups, forums, in-person meetups, and social media.

What feedback is useful?

Useful feedback should measure both the satisfaction of the user and the result of a user completing a specific task using your product.

Gathering holistic feedback that is vague and filled with general platitudes is not useful.

What if they're wrong?

All user feedback should be noted, but not all user feedback is valuable. If all of your user feedback is perceived as wrong, well then, you're probably wrong. It's important to dig deeper if you believe validation feedback is incorrect. This may be an opportunity to identify a pivot.

How do I gather feedback?

Gather feedback through a usability study and a cognitive walkthrough. A usability study focuses on the user interface of your product to determine if the prototype's user interface is acceptable or needs to be improved. A cognitive walkthrough evaluates the product's ability to solve a specific task. It's important to instruct users that you are not testing them, rather, you are testing the product. Finally, coach your users to think aloud.

Should I use unmoderated tools?

Moderated usability studies are those in which a person that is familiar with the product facilitates. Moderated usability studies and cognitive walk-throughs provide the most effective feedback for validation. On the other hand, Unmoderated usability studies do not have a person present for facilitation. Similarly, unmoderated tools can measure and monitor product use, providing insight into how a user discovers and interacts with your product without guidance.

Do I need a prototype?

Yes. However, your prototype does not necessarily need to be high fidelity. It is useful to gather feedback through low-fi prototypes before iterating toward high-fi prototypes.

Do I need an MVP?

No. A minimum viable product (MVP) should only be developed after prototype iteration. Only upon completion - and validation - of a prototype should an MVP be developed.

An MVP is yet another opportunity to validate and gather feedback. The breakeven of the MVP development expense should ideally equal the value of the feedback and validation.

Do I need to generate revenue?

The goal of the product is to generate revenue (though, not necessarily as may be the case for a public works product, government product, not-for-profit products, etc). However, the goal of product validation is not to generate revenue.

Should I presell?

Using a pre-selling strategy for product validation can provide both feedback and revenue. Preselling can also build community and urgency. The risk is that things can go wrong, so it's important to clearly communicate a refund policy.

What about LTDs?

A lifetime deal (LTD) provides an opportunity to attract early adopters with the ongoing expense of providing access to your product.

Do I reveal my product roadmap?

Revealing a product roadmap to early adopters provides validation of feature expansions. However, this could also provide existing competitors and would-be competitors with insight into your future features. It is important to consider the size of the moat around your product and to use legal non-disclosure agreements.

Should I have a public beta?

A public beta provides further validation of your product through metrics and can build community and urgency. A public beta can be used effectively in conjunction with preselling. The risks are negative reviews or early adopters vomiting.

Should I raise capital from early adopters?

Raising capital from early adopters enables you to retain equity before potential liquidation during capital raising events.

How do I identify potential pivots?

Product validation may reveal opportunities for a pivot of your product. When gathering feedback it is important to note problems that a user identifies with the user interface and how they use the product, but also problems that exist that the product does not solve. Those problems may be beyond the scope of your existing product. As with all products, validating a potential pivot is critical.

What are the risks with product validation?

The goal of product validation is to reduce risk, however, there are some risks associated with product validation. Preselling can introduce risk, flopped beta launches can be risky, and leaks to existing and would-be competitors could risk your (hopeful) blue ocean. Mitigate these risks through clear communication, striving for excellence, and legal containment.

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