5 mistakes in idea validation

October 20, 2009

Let’s say you have an idea for a new business that you want to validate. Maybe its well developed to the extent of a prototype. What do you do? A number of things but there are some you shouldn’t do. Here are 5 mistakes that I’ve made or seen others make.

1. Ask an expert: The first mistake that many people make is to ask an expert to save time and effort. Usually the expert gives a general answer because there is little more than he can do. Sometimes the expert points out earlier similar ideas and their outcomes. A slightly better situation is when a senior industry executive has been asked. In the least, the answer is better informed. However none of them are a good outcome. Consider that all of these experts know the world as it is; not what it can be with your idea in operation. Also they may not be intimate with the particular small part that you’re looking at since they are seniors overlooking large areas. A better way is to approach the users directly. It will cost time and effort but will cut out any ambiguities. The users will tell you all that you need to do and in detail. You would certainly uncover many things that you didn’t know or didn’t consider. So cut the switchboard in between and get to the source.

2: Only Listening to users: The second mistake is to only listen to the users. Many times users give misleading answers to look good to the interviewer. Many times they are just unable to express what they need or lack as they have constructed their lives to be satisfactory without it. If there is a focus group, users tend to converge on a few points though separatly they wouldn’t agree on the same points! The way out is to go and observe the users in their natural environment. Allow them to settle in their routine if you’re an intrusion and then only record the observations.

3: Ignoring Price: The third mistake is to not ask about price but only performance. Yes people buy for a the performance/features but at a particular price. Its a very obvious point that many forget. So please ask the users how much would they pay. A related mistake is to ask if they like the product and not ask if they would buy the product. Again makes a big difference.

4. Treating all users as same: The fourth mistake is to treat all users as the same. There are different kinds of users and they have different needs. This means that you need to meet a large number of users to arrive at any meaningful conclusions. In a large data set clusters would emerge that would help you decide which users need your idea more than others. Imagine meeting only a handful of users and not coming across many of this cluster and abandoning the idea. Conversely imagine not meeting the needs of this user set well enough.

5: Treating all parts as equally valuable: The fifth mistake is to consider all parts of the idea as equally valuable. This is seldom the case. Sometimes there are parts that the user is indifferent about as long as the core part is delivered. Now if you knew that then you may not waste time and effort on those aspects. So do ask the users what you can cut out and they would still buy.

These are the 5 mistakes on top of my mind. They apply differently in different businesses, teams, idea stage etc. Consider that when using these in your context. Also there are many more so please do share them here.

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