Ever since I’ve launched Whever together with my co-founders, various people have asked me for advice on how to test a business idea. Even though Whever wasn’t successful, I’ve learned tons from the many mistakes we made. These tips will hopefully allow you to test your problem the right way and avoid falling into the same traps me and my co-founders did launching our first startup.
There are two ways to go about. You can either start by defining the problem and talking to people (Approach #1), or you can go ahead and build a minimum viable product right away (Approach #2). If you’re the kind of person who prefers to build stuff rather than talk to people, I still recommend reading Approach #1 first as I’ve outlined some handy tools and other resources that could be of use once you’re in the middle of building your website.
If you have any questions, just shoot me an email. Good luck!
Approach #1: Start by defining the problem and DON’T BUILD ANYTHING until you’ve validated that there is, in fact, a problem
Step 1 Throw away your solution
When people pitch me their idea, they usally start by explaining the great solution they have in mind. When I then ask about the problem, they don’t really know what to say. Here comes a very important lesson: great business ideas start from a real pain, that ideally occurs often. As long as you haven’t validated the problem, coming up with a solution doesn’t make any sense.
In the next video, Trevor Owens, founder of Lean Startup Machine, explains how important it is to not waste any time building a solution that people don’t need. Hopefully, the video will be a lightbulb moment. Please watch the 10 minute video before you do anything else.
If you weren’t convinced that throwing away your solution is a good idea, then hopefully by now you’ve changed your mind.
Step 2 Define your target group and the problem
Next, define various target groups and their problems. Write each target group and problem on a separate post-it. Once you’ve listed all of them, pick one target group and one problem. Define your riskiest assumption for this target group and write it on a post-it. The riskiest assumption is the one thing that should be true for your problem to be validated. Last, set a ´success rate´, or the percentage of people that must have experienced the problem for you to be able to validate it. Fill in the Javelin Experiment Board with your target groups, problems, riskiest assumption and success rate by putting the post-its in the appropriate boxes. See below an example of the Javelin board for Whever. Click image to view full size.
Step 3 Come up with 5 questions
Think of various questions for your first interview. It’s highly important to ask about past experiences rather than hypothetical situations, because people are generally bad at estimating whether they will take action on something that will happen in the future.
The Mom Test is a great book that explains the importance of asking for past experiences. I highly recommend it. It’s easy to read and very practical, and you can buy the PDF for only 10 dollars. Here are 5 questions that Rob Fitzpatrick, author of The Mom Test, proposes for a first interview:
1. When was the last time you [define the problem, eg ‘were running late’]?
2. Can you tell me what happened?
3. Did you run into problems?
4. If yes, how did you solve it?
5. If you didn’t solve it, how frustrated were you? How often does this problem occur?
Keep in mind that you not only want to validate that the problem exists, but also want to know whether the problem is worth solving. Question 5 in the list tests this part.
Step 4 Get out of the building
Now that you’re equipped with your interview questions, it’s time to get out of the building. Select a place where you can find your target group, and go to this place.
The people I’ve talked to find this step quite scary, because it’s unnatural to talk to strangers. I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there as well. However, you’ll discover that people are friendly and willing to take 5 minutes of their time if you explain that you’re testing a business idea. Also, if you’re too scared to talk to potential target customers, how will you ever be able to create something that 100 people love? Go ahead, they won’t bite!
Step 5 Evaluate and proceed, or pivot
If you hit your success rate, then go on to the next phase by building a solution. After you’ve set your new success rate, you will present your solution to the target group. Check Approach #2 for more information on how to set up a website. Can you only show your solution via an app? Then use app mockup websites like Invision, Marvelapp, Ninjamock or Balsamiq to create the first mock-up screens and user flow.
If you haven’t reached your success rate, you pivot by changing the problem or the target group. See below the second iteration for Whever (click image to view full size). Go back to step 4.
Don’t want to take these steps all by yourself? Then attend a Startup Weekend or Lean Startup Machine Weekend. I’ve attended three of them. It’s really fun! Check Eventbrite to see if there’s one near you in the upcoming weeks.
Approach #2: Build an MVP and see what happens
If your idea can be tested via a website and you prefer to set something up quickly and adjust your idea from there, this second approach could work for you. The next steps can also be used for those people that have validated their idea with Approach #1 and are now ready to create a first draft of the solution. If your solution should look like an app, then I recommend following approach #1 as it takes a little more effort to build screen mockups than launch a website.
Step 1 Create a webpage
You can do this via platforms like www.wix.com, wordpress.com, or squarespace.com. These platforms generally can be used for free but won’t allow you to customize your domain name and will show ads on some parts of your website. I recommend taking a paid plan, allowing you to have a custom URL that looks more professional and trustworthy. Wix offers a 14 day-money-back guarantee, so if you use your time efficiently, you have two weeks to test your idea for free.
Step 2 Get a customized domain name
Usually the websites mentioned at Step 1 allow you to choose a domain name when you sign up for a paid plan. If you prefer to buy a domain name separately, I highly recommend Neostrada.
To brainstorm for names, check out Naminum. Think of one word you want to include in the name and Naminum suggests all sorts of variations on the typical startup names.
Step 3 Decide what you want to communicate on your website
Usually it is something like:
Part I. A one sentence that describes what your business does
Part II. The benefits
Part III. How it works
Part III. Get in touch
For inspiration, check out the website by Fitsense. The website clearly communicates what Fitsense does and motivates you to get in touch if you’re interested to know more.
Step 4 Lead traffic to your website
This might be the most important step. In order to test your idea, you want people to visit your website and interact with it. Post your idea anywhere you think your target group might see it. Create various Facebook ads to boost traffic.
Step 5 Evaluate and proceed, or pivot
As soon as someone gets in touch via your website, make sure to contact that person and ask what drove him/her to fill out contact details. For appropriate questions, check Approach #1 Step 3.
Hope this helped!