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You have an amazing idea. You’ve thought about it for a while, you think you’re onto something, and you really believe that it will really help a lot of people.
You start to work on the product.
Don’t do that. I’m serious.
If you haven’t spent any time actually validating your product, you’re wasting your time. The only way you’re truly going to know if a group of people is going to buy what you’re selling is if you validate your product.
There are many different ways to validate your product, a few of which we’ll discuss in today’s episode. More important than the method is the mindset. The greatest (and most successful) product you can create is not based on a whim or “idea,” but it will come from an intimate understanding of who you’re trying to help.
In today’s show, we’ll talk about the importance of validating your product and some practical methods to make sure you’re not wasting your time.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- If you’re trying to establish a business, don’t run with an idea you haven’t validated.
- People know their problems more intimately than they know how to solve them.
- Spend time upfront getting to know your audience before you make the product.
- If you’re not selling, figure out whether your approach is wrong or your product isn’t what it needs to be.
- Before you create something, know your goals.
- Understand what your target audience wants.
- The most important feedback you can get is from the people who will benefit from your product.
- To get feedback, share your idea and be open about it.
- When something is popular and people are asking for it, you automatically have validation.
- When it comes to validation, data is king.
- You really only know whether someone will buy your product once the money is in the bank.
- If you take preorders or you do crowdfunding, you have to follow through.
- 03:05 Cory: This show came out of a conversation I had with Community member, Robin. We were talking, and he was talking about how he was trying to sort out the steps leading up to validating his product. He had this idea for a specific kind of course for a specific kind of person, and as we were talking about it, I realized that he was working on the product before knowing if it was going to work.
- 03:42 He was coming up with strategy and stuff like that. I was like, “Wait, hold on. If you’re not sure about your product, why are you spending time working on the product right now? If you’re not sure what the need is, you shouldn’t be worried about coming up with a product strategy yet. You need to step back and move back a little bit.” A lot of people start with, “I think this is a good idea,” and then they run with it. That works for some people.
- 04:20 If you’re just like, “I think this is a really good idea, I want to see this in the world, I want to make this happen,” again, sometimes that works. In a lot of cases, just because we think we’ve got a great idea doesn’t mean that someone else is going to give you money in exchange for the thing you’re going to create.
- 04:46 Kyle: The whole goal of this podcast episode is to circumvent that feeling of, “I’m just taking a shot in the dark. I have this idea, I think it’s great. I know I would use it and I’m pretty sure my friends would use it.” You’re not sure, and it feels like you can’t figure that out. You’re like, “I have to have the product before people know what it is.” Validating your product isn’t necessarily about having the product in hand. It’s not about sending it to someone or even telling someone about the specific problem.
- 05:27 It’s not about saying, “Is this what you like? Would you like to buy this?” You can do that, but typically, a product solves a problem that people don’t know how to solve or don’t understand what the solution could be, but they have something in their life that they need to solve, and you’re going to step in and provide the solution. The idea doesn’t necessarily come from the people in your audience.
- 05:56 They’re not going to say, “I specifically want this product.” In some cases, maybe they do. You realize that people might be asking for this, but they would really be better served with this other thing. The don’t realize that yet, but they have a need. The point is to see the need or the desire they have and start validating that your product will work, because you’ve seen what people ask for, the things they struggle with.
If you’re trying to establish a business, running with an idea you haven’t validated could be very risky and costly.
Know Your Goals
- 06:28 Cory: When we talk about validation, we’re not talking about whether or not this thing is intrinsically good. Does this thing actually have value, this thing you’re creating? For example, Eugene and I were talking in the Community before the show. He was saying, “What about things in creative fields, like fine art, music, or dance? How do you validate something that’s a nice-to-have or doesn’t have a process you can go through like you might have with a product or service that has some kind of outcome?”
- 07:12 Validation isn’t saying, “This thing in and of itself is good.” The question is, what are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish with what you’re creating? If you’re trying to start or run a business, and you need to have a product or service that generates revenue, the things you work on need to pipe into that goal. Let’s say you’re an artist and you want to create an art piece of some kind.
- 07:45 If you create it and no one buys it, does that mean that it’s not a valid product? That’s not what we’re saying. The question is, again, what is your goal? Are you creating something to create it or are you creating something to sell it? If you’re creating something to sell it, where are the people that are actually going to buy that product? This is what it comes back to.
Before you create something, know your goals.
Know Your Audience
- 08:14 Cory: Secondly, you have to talk about the people you’re actually trying to help, reach, or sell to. You need to have more than some kind of idea. You need to know the people. We talk about this all the time—you have to know who you’re trying to help (Related: e003 Defining Your Target Audience). You have to know who you’re trying to bring into the fold.
- 08:42 This is important because you can’t get time back. If you want to move forward and not waste time, it’s to make sure that the time you’re spending on things that could bring in revenue or sustain your business can generate success for your business. You can’t just go to someone and say, “Hey, can you buy this?” That’s going to give skewed results. Some percentage of people are going to be really nice and say, “Sure,” and some people, like my sister, will say, “No, that’s a dumb idea.”
- 09:28 People really know the pains that they have, the discomforts, and the things that make them squirm in their chairs a little bit. That’s what people really know. If you have a product but you’re not sure who to market it to, you’re doing it backward. If you have an idea for a product but you’re not sure whether it’s going to take off, you’re doing it backwards. If you know the solution more than you know the problem, you’re doing it backwards.
- 10:00 Just because you think it’s a good idea doesn’t mean anyone else does. Just because you would buy it doesn’t mean anyone else would. In the context of this show, we’re going to be talking about validating a product that you want to sell. That’s ultimately what we’re going to be talking about—why validation is important, first of all. It’s important because I don’t want you to waste time or energy going down the wrong trail. You need to be focused on the right things and spending time on the right things.
People know their problems more intimately than they know how to solve them.
Marketing & Branding
- 10:37 Kyle: This is that great intersection of marketing and branding. The two apply here. You have to know who your target audience is. We’ve talked about this forever on this show. Who is your target audience? Who are you trying to reach? This is exactly why, for example, if McDonalds said, “We’re going to have a high end upscale restaurant,” it would completely throw people off. Maybe they’re capable of doing that. They can afford it as a company, to put that together.
- 11:11 It’s not unlikely that they could do that, but the branding is such that people expect a different kind of thing from that brand. To go the opposite direction is kind of odd. People aren’t fans of that brand for that reason. Same thing if you’re a high end restaurant and you say, “We’re opening a dollar per item store down the street.” It’s jarring and confusing. Maybe you’re not considering a product that deviates from your brand.
- 11:59 Not only do you understand if your product is valid for your audience and whether they’re actually interested in that, but you also understand how you can start marketing the thing. I mentioned this to you the other day, Cory, but there’s a book called Launch by Jeff Walker. It’s a fantastic book.
- 12:20 It’s about launching a product and getting it off the ground. One of the stories to summarize it all in that book was about this guy who had an idea for a board game. I think he was a forest ranger or something like that, and his idea was this board game to help kids understand how different leaves and things you find in the forest can help you do different things. It was kind of a survival-type thing.
- 12:54 He wanted to teach about that, and he thought the best way to do that would be through a board game. He had the idea before he validated it, and he ordered all of these products. I think he had 200 board games, because he had to order in bulk to get it custom made and everything. They’re sitting around his apartment. They already don’t earn a lot as a family, and he was about to go bankrupt. He was stressed like crazy and wasn’t selling them.
- 13:27 He felt like his product was terrible and he should never have done it. Then, he figured out who he’s actually selling to. Jeff talked with him and said, “This is your audience. You should market towards them in this way, write these emails, and do these things.” He sold out in about two days when he had everything together, knew who he was targeting, and validated the fact that this certain group of people would actually want this.
Even if you don’t have an audience yet, certain people are interested in what you do, and understanding what they want is super important.
Talk to the People You’re Trying to Reach
- 14:07 Cory: It’s the crossroad of your skill, talent, and passion, and other people. Going back to creating art, it’s not necessarily like, “I only need to create art that’s going to appease other people,” it’s putting out work, sketches, and sharing the kind of work that you do. You’re building trust with people so that you attract the kind of people that actually would be buying the kind of style or work that you do.
- 14:37 How many different kinds of paintings or types of art are there in the world? We’ve mentioned the picture of the potato that sold for a million euro. There’s watercolor, oil painting, sketch drawing, hand lettering, and all these different things. Again, it’s about knowing the kinds of people that are going to buy that thing and attracting those people. You have to talk to people.
- 15:15 Put that time in beforehand, whether that’s conversations or sharing your work. All of that goes into validating the goal of the product. It’s not necessarily about just figuring out whether something has intrinsic value, but it’s about the people. What are their stories? What are their problems? Sit down and have a coffee with someone and say, “Tell me about what’s going on.” Instead of saying, “I’ve got this product. Would you buy it?”
- 15:50 Going back to the story with Robin, if he’s developing a certain kind of course that is going to help certain kinds of people find their passion or make a business doing what they love or help them find self-awareness, or whatever that is, you don’t sit down and say, “Hey, I have a course that’s going to help you find your passion and make a living doing what you love and know yourself fully.”
- 16:12 You sit down and you say, “What are you nervous about after graduating high school? What kind of job would you like to have in the next ten years? If money was no object, how would you spend your time?” Get to know these people. Ask questions. Serve them. That’s why businesses have focus groups and they do market groups. It’s because they’re not sitting there saying, “We’re trying to sell this sponge, so we’re going to put this sponge in front of somebody and say, ‘Hey, would you buy this sponge?'”
- 16:38 Instead, they ask questions, like, “What’s one of the hardest things about cleaning your house?” Maybe that’s too much. I’m not a market research expert. I’m sure there are a lot of different ways to ask it. It’s that sort of thing. You don’t just drop something in someone’s lap and say, “Hey, would you buy this?” They’re like, “Uh, I don’t know.”
- 17:15 This is especially true if this is the kind of product you’re going to put on a shelf or in a store online. That’s going to take a significant amount of time. I know people who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on a product they thought was a really good idea, and it flopped, because no one actually asked for it. No one felt that they needed that product. We want to save time and energy.
Know who the people are that will end up buying what you make.
Get deeply intertwined with the stories of the people in your audience.
Spend time upfront talking with your audience and getting to know them before you make the product.
Audit Your Approach
- 17:49 Cory: There are a lot of different ways you can validate a product or an idea or get direction, and I think we should talk about some of those.
- 18:00 Kyle: You have to be careful with this, because you can invest way too much time, effort, and energy into something that won’t really work out for your brand or your company, and it may not be worth pursuing creating a different brand and doing all this extra work that you would have to do to make a product work. It may not even be invalid because nobody wants your product—it’s that your approach isn’t working with your audience.
- 18:35 The best example I can think of is Febreze. When Febreze first came out, they did that market research. They talked with people and said, “What’s something you wish you could do that you can’t really do with air fresheners that you have?” They had the concept for creating this odorless air freshener. It’s not even an air freshener. It scientifically removes certain molecules from the air. They talked with people and did this research.
- 19:06 People were saying, “My couch is smelly. Certain things smell, and I can’t change that because I can’t wash my whole couch.” They put together the product, got it all ready, did some testing with it to make sure it worked for people, and at the end of the day, they were selling it as an odor-free spray that would neutralize the air in your house. People didn’t want that. The product almost got to the point where they cut off funding and decided to no longer produce it anymore.
- 19:44 It got that bad. People didn’t want something that didn’t smell like anything. They liked the scents. They wanted to make things smell better, not make them smell like nothing. They changed the marketing up. They figured out that if you spray this over a couch or whatever, it gets rid of those odors. They started marketing it that way instead of only focusing on the air. That sounds like a really slight change, but it increased their profit majorly and connected with their target audience who cared about something they weren’t highlighting about their product.
- 20:33 Cory: Absolutely. With approach, it could even be the copy on your website. You could be saying one thing and people are receiving it in one way when you actually want them to receive it in another way. Some of this can be worked on with AB testing, where random people in your audience see one set of copy or they see something else, and you do this in mico-versions. Maybe you test it and there’s a different tagline on the product, on two different versions.
- 21:03 You see what are people actually resonating with and look into that. That’s a really important aspect of all of this as well. You may have a great product that’s going to solve problems for these people, but maybe your approach is wrong. Maybe there are things there to be worked on, and that’s something to take into consideration.
If you’re not selling, figure out whether your approach is wrong or your product isn’t what it needs to be.
- 21:36 Cory: There are a lot of ways to validate your product, and we’re just going to mention a few of them. One of them is to get feedback on your idea or your work. To get feedback, you actually have to share your idea and be open about it. A lot of people are like, “What if someone steals my idea?” If someone steals your idea, no one cares, but they probably won’t. It’s unlikely that someone will go, “That’s a great idea!”
- 22:00 Guess what? You’re the one doing the work, the upfront work. They’re always going to be behind you if you’re at the point of sharing an idea. Anybody else who tries to copy your work is going to be behind you. That doesn’t mean that you can throw ideas out, and if someone takes it, think that they won’t do anything about it.
- 22:27 If you have a group of 10,000 people and you don’t ask them any questions about this thing you’re making, and then you’re like, “Hey, by the way, I have this thing!” You haven’t built up trust, any kind of rapport, or any kind of hype. You haven’t asked for feedback. You haven’t said, “Hey, I have this great thing,” so they can say, “Actually, that only solves 2% of the problem. The real problem is X.”
- 22:51 You’re like, “I was solving something completely different!” Get feedback on your idea and your work. The most important feedback you can get is from the people who will benefit from your product. Kyle, let’s say you’ve got this great new brand of dog food called Logs for Dogs. They’re hot dogs shaped like logs and they’re for dogs.
- 23:18 Kyle: I thought you were going to say Snazzy McKibble.
- 23:24 Cory: I wasn’t and I won’t. You’re inventing this new brand of dog food, and you ask me, “Hey Cory, I’ve got Logs for Dogs here. I think it’s the best thing in the world. Do you think it’s the best thing in the world? Help me validate it.” I don’t own a dog. I could try to come up with something and tell you that this is a good idea or not, but I don’t know. I don’t buy dog food. I’m not a dog owner. You would need to ask dog owners. Those are the people who are actually going to buy your product, and that’s where the most important feedback is going to come from.
- 24:17 Get feedback on your idea or your work.
If you hold your ideas too close to your chest, it’s going to be hard to get it off the ground because no one will know about it.
Don’t put any weight on the opinion of your family and friends, because they’ll probably tell you anything you make is great.
See What People Are Asking for or Talking About
- 24:36 Cory: Are people emailing you? Are they leaving comments on your website or your YouTube channel or tweeting you with questions? You can guest post on someone else’s blog or site and see what the response is. You can check out Twitter or Facebook groups around your niche and see what people are talking about, what their needs are, and what their frustrations are. Again, we’re going in and asking people, getting in the mix with people. That’s what having a strong brand is about.
- 25:17 Eugene has a great point. “Family is either overly negative or overly positive.” Yes. You have to get really good feedback from people who are actually going to help you be objective. That’s one of the things that’s so great about the Community. There are loads of people here who are great at helping you get feedback or finding the right places to get that feedback. If you’re like, “Hey, I have this new brand of dog food. Is it the best thing in the world?” If I don’t own a dog, we can at least help you in the right direction.
- 25:54 That’s what I love about the Community. It’s so awesome to be able to go in and say, “Hey, I have this thing I’m working on. I’m bringing my business in this direction and I’d love some feedback.” There’s always really great stuff in there.
- 26:10 Kyle: On the topic of what people are asking or talking about, for my perspective, with some of the products I’ve come out with, it’s completely about that. This is kind of weird, because we’ve had shows about how the numbers aren’t the biggest thing, and that’s true. Your numbers don’t validate everything about you, but when you’re looking into product research, it’s important to notice what things people have expressed the most interest in.
- 26:44 For example, if I’m going to create a print for my store, I’ve done this. I’ve gone back and seen, “What are the things that people have viewed or liked the most of the work that I’ve done, and have people been asking for products for that?” Obviously, that’s the thing that has been popular. Are people asking for it?
- 27:14 Is there any desire for this? Then you can start running it by people, but you can get your own validation for whether you should be pursuing this by looking at that and saying, “What are the numbers on this? Did people even say that they liked it? Did people ask for it? Do they want products from this, or did they just think it was interesting?” You can start doing that research yourself instead of only relying on what everyone else is saying.
- 27:52 Cory: It’s really easy to say, “That’s a great idea! I would totally buy that,” and a completely other thing to actually pull out your wallet and buy a thing. That’s the next thing.
If you’re trying to create a brand that’s disconnected from the people you’re trying to reach, you’re going to fail.
When something is popular and people are asking for it, you have validation before you even start talking with people.
Get Someone to Pay You for a Product Before You Make It
- 28:10 Cory: This could also be after you make it. Get someone to pay you for the product. This is a great way to validate a product, especially if that person is in that target audience, if they’re that target customer.
- 28:27 That’s just the truth. We’ve talked about this crowdfunding idea (Related: e033 Lessons We Can Learn From Crowdfunding). If you have a great idea and you can demonstrate how you can make someone’s life better by producing that product, and you’ve gone through the process, talked with these people, and you know their problems and how to solve them and you can demonstrate how you can make their life better by the production of that product and you can get them to pay you for it, that’s a great way to validate your product.
- 28:57 A lot of people thought their new smartphone was a great idea until it completely flopped because 14 people bought it. It’s like, “I’m going to enter into the smartphone thing. I’ll go up against iPhone and Android. It’s going to be awesome. I’ve got this new operating system that I made, and this is totally what people want.” You launch it, and you just lost $150 million because no one actually wanted it.
- 29:25 Kyle: Yeah, I’ve seen that happen so often.
- 29:30 Cory: There’s a news story that just came out yesterday on this product called Plastc. Did you ever hear about Plastc or Coin, these single cards that you could have multiple credit cards on?
- 29:46 Kyle: I’ve heard about Coin, but not about Plastc.
- 29:49 Cory: It was the same kind of idea. The problem is that people have all of these credit cards, loyalty cards, and whatever in their wallets. It’s making it really bulky. They were like, “We want to create this card that you can store multiple cards on. You press a button on the card itself, and it switches through all of your debit or credit cards.” From what I understand, they didn’t crowdfund. They did a preorder.
- 30:19 It wasn’t even like, “Hey, help us make this a possibility. There might be some risk involved, and we’re going to do our best.” It was like, “This is coming. Preorder it now.” They raised $9 million, and they just filed for bankruptcy. There was one round of investment they tried to get, the investor backed out, and then they tried to raise a few more million. That didn’t go through. They fired all of their employees. Now, you have a bunch of people who paid $9 million into this thing. They’re like, “Now I’m out that money, and I don’t have that product at all.”
- 31:15 That’s the only way. If you want to maintain any kind of brand loyalty or trust, you have to follow through. When people give you their hard-earned cash, that’s the deal breaker. You have to have a good product and you have to follow through. Otherwise, you’re like Plastc or Coin. You’re like the Coolest Cooler or all those other businesses that have promised something, taken people’s money, and then somehow spent it all and didn’t follow through.
- 31:46 You have to be careful with that. You have to actually follow through. Again, we’re talking about validation. A lot of people wanted it. That was a need that people had, but you have to make sure you’re not saying, “Hey, I have this great idea. I’ll take your money now.” You have to have a plan and a good business, and then make it happen.
- 32:08 Kyle: If you’re listening to this and you haven’t released a product yet, get ready. People will definitely say they’re giong to buy it. I remember hearing, “People will say they want to buy it but they’re not really going to buy it,” and then you get in the situation where you’re about to launch a product. You’ve got a friend or someone who’s like, “I totally want to get that when you come out with it. Let me know when it’s out. I want to buy it, for sure. I’m ready.”
- 32:44 I have a friend now who said that a year ago, and they haven’t ever bought the product. They still say, “I’m totally going to get that. I have to wait until I get some things in order.” Yeah. Okay.
- 32:57 Cory: Yeah. Things in order.
- 33:08 That’s why it’s so important to know these people, so you can speak to them and communicate to them in a way that helps them and moves them from being kind of interested to actually buying the product. If this is actually going to help them, if it’s something they really want, or it will make their life better in any way, you have to be able to communicate that well. That’s why you have to know these people and why they didn’t buy.
You really only know whether someone will buy your product once the money is in the bank.
If you take preorders or you do crowdfunding, you have to follow through.
People who say they’ll buy your product are being nice, but it still may not happen.
- 33:39 Cory: That can be another thing. You can ask the people who originally said, “Hey, I’m going to totally buy that,” and then don’t—just ask them! Maybe that’s really uncomfortable, but this is all data. You need data.
- 33:58 You need data from the people you’re trying to reach, to sell to. Otherwise, you’re going to spend a lot of time and money building something that may not have any relevance in the marketplace. You need to have data. That’s why I think it’s really important, if you run some kind of a launch campaign or you do any kind of marketing, if you can talk with any of the people who didn’t buy and ask them why, that is great data.
- 34:41 Don’t start a business on a hunch. You need to know that you’re actually going to go somewhere with it. As I was doing some research, there was this great article on Startup Grind. There was this fantastic little script they had for collecting data from your target market. It’s this: “Hi [insert name], I’m hoping to spend 15 minutes on the phone with [target market],” and your target market could be CEOs, business owners, dog owners, etc., “Who are experiencing [problem].”
- 35:23 “Who are experiencing high bacteria counts in their dog food,” or something. I don’t know. “I’m doing research and have nothing to sell. Would you be available for a quick call tomorrow at [time]?” Or, “Would you be able to hop on Skype or meet for coffee?” You have a certain amount of minutes, whatever. You can use that to get on the phone, on a Skype call, or sit down for coffee with people.
- 35:58 If you ask 100 people and 10 people say yes, then that’s 10 people. Now, you’re starting to collect data. You’re just asking about the problem. “When did this start? How have you dealt with it? What are your frustrations with current solutions?”
When it comes to validation, data is king.
To collect data, you have to talk with the people who have the issues you want to solve.
See What Other Products & Services Are Already Out There
- 36:32 Cory: What’s currently out there? If you sell 101 Consulting for something or you hold workshops and people are consistently signing up and buying spots, why not turn that into some other form of product? That’s a form of validation. If people are like, “Yeah, I want to come to your art workshop. I want to get this brand consulting from you,” that’s something you can turn into a product.
- 36:55 You can look at other products/services out there and say, “Okay, there’s something in that market that people are latching onto. There are all of these online video courses…” Kyle just posted something in the Community, and I totally lost my train of thought. Can you read that, Kyle?
- 37:27 Kyle: Yes. I wrote a poem. Cory, you said, “Don’t start your business on a hunch,” and it inspired me. “Don’t start your business on a hunch. Don’t start your business during brunch. Don’t start start a business if you don’t have a goal. Otherwise, you’ll likely end up in the hole.”
- 37:51 Cory: That’s very Dr. Seuss-ian in nature.
- 37:53 Kyle: It’s beautiful.