How do you verify the viability of your idea?


I would like to hear from those folks that have gone through their initial market research and idea validation stages of their start-up and would like to share how they went about making sure their idea was something worth wrapping a business around.

Much appreciated!

Marketing Ideas Customers Valuation

asked Apr 24 '12 at 12:34
Victor S
141 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll
  • How hard is a MVP to create? How hard is your idea for users to understand? Have you talked to any potential users? – Jeff S 12 years ago
  • This is not a question particular to me, I want to open up a discussion about what specific things other start-up founder have gone through to successfully validate, or dis-validate their ideas; and to start a discussion on what successful strategies were like. Personally I am a builder, so I tend to just make things, but at the expense of not having much of an audience. I would like to get a better idea about how to find out if something is worth doing. – Victor S 12 years ago
  • I created my MVP in 4 hours by paying a person $240. – Bhargav Patel 11 years ago

6 Answers


Ultimately, that is the the single most dangerous flaw all entrepreneurs share - they love the process of creating. For most, market research and validation is something like a bad root canal - I've been there before and guilty as well. The easiest way to validate your idea is to perform a first round of hallway testing :

  1. TALK TO PEOPLE that have no clue about what you are about to create, then
  2. SHOW THEM what you have (MVP, screenshots, beta) and
  3. LISTEN - don't evangelize.

Make sure you tell people that you want an honest answer - otherwise you run the risk of getting (useless) sugar-coated results. Also, make sure that the people generally understand the subject area (so your grandmother might not be the perfect person).

Hallway testing doesn't cost you any money, just the time to do it and to collect feedback / condense valuable information. Once you have this qualitative feedback, move on and try to validate (quantify ) the requirements with surveys, ads, etc - it if this is feasible for your product / service.

answered Apr 25 '12 at 11:08
Hans Fremuth
305 points


I'm in a similar situation. In our case, my business partner and I are working on a B2B application for HR departments. So we've asked our friends to help us out with their opinions (the ones that work in HR) or with contacts.

We offer to buy everyone lunch in exchange for their opinion, especially the people we don't know :)

We ask them general questions about their feedback, but also specific things like what would they pay for our product. Everytime we do this we get better at asking the right questions, we gain knowledge of what all these people really do (I assumed I knew what HR did and I was mostly right, but not completely), how the competition works, what prices they pay, and so on. Everyone has been nice, helpful, and offered extra help.

We wanted to talk to potential customers before we started programming because we've been in the situation before where we've developed something that nobody wanted.

The result is that we're considering a few changes, and we're working on a beta that we hope to test and develop with one of these potential customers. We also have some ideas of where we can go if things don't work out exactly how we imagine them.

The work of Steve Blank and Eric Ries have been a help to us in this area. If you're interested here are a couple of resources:

answered Apr 26 '12 at 21:43
Ivan Maeder
136 points
  • +1 for Eric Ries. _The Lean Startup_ would be a good resource for the OP. – Scott Wilson 12 years ago
  • Ivan, keep in mind that you are dealing with additional personas here - the HR professional is the USER, the IT department (unless it's SaaS) is the TECHNICAL BUYER and the head of the department or CEO/CIO is the actual BUYER who controls the purse strings. Your go-to-market strategy, product delivery, messaging and pricing are affected by that. – Hans Fremuth 12 years ago
  • Hans, your're right, if you can you have to be in conversation with everyone involved. There's a good story in The Four Steps to the Epiphany (Steve Blank) about a bank with a large queue of customers outside every day. The tellers suffer, and the branch manager too... so if you have a solution, it's easy to sell to them. But the further up you go, if this isn't affecting a large number of branches, the less you're likely to be able to convince anyone that this is a critical problem. – Ivan Maeder 12 years ago


From the perspective of what I refer to as innovation methodology, I try to focus product and service designers on solving a problem for their potential customers. As applied to your HR centric product, I would encourage you to talk with people in that audience about what makes their job hard and what makes it easy. To the extent you solve their problems for them your product will be considered innovative. Next deconstruct those people in to various groups who are part of the process, and ask each of them the same questions related to problems which can be solved. HR might be deconstructed into groups of Recruiters, Hiring managers, Compensation managers (people who create the packages to bring in top talent), Staff managers, and HR generalists who usually support the staff managers. Each will likely give you a different perspective on the topic and potential to create a tool to solve their problems.

I want to credit Hans for stating this (somewhat differently), but it is important to recognize that people will almost always give you an answer that is not insulting or hurtful, so you will often get answers biased toward your product being good as it is. I would suggest you focus on watching them react (video if they will allow it). You will often see a "sour" face followed up by a verbal compliment. Most people don't even realize they are not being 100% accurate to how they really felt, so just know the human decency bias exists.

(again +1 to Hans) Always put something in their hands to touch, even if it is just a mock up with pictures of buttons rather than something that works. Prototypes are critical and you should only test one or two features at a time. Tell the viewers what to ignore. (i.e. "This is not the real case we will use for our widget, so I am interested in seeing how you might use this menu during your daily task of _ _."

Just as another common pitfall, don't ask for input on how to make something innovative. Almost as a universal rule, people giving feedback can not provide answers that our outside their current world view. As such, they have a hard time envisioning a world after a disruptive innovation. Imagine asking people to imagine a world with the iPhone back when our cell phones were the size and shape of a typical masonry brick. Again what they are great experts on is the tasks they do during their daily lives, and the problems the might be having. Your task is to make the innovative tools that will help them with those problems.

answered Apr 29 '12 at 03:38
On The Shelf
180 points


I would like to say all the answers here are insightful. From a product point of view when vetting and creating an idea, ensure that you do "Voice of the Customer". That means that you have clearly defined who your target audience is. A great book that I read recently on Design Thinking takes you through tools that can be used to capture the Voice of the Customer and turn it into data to help to validate your idea.

answered Apr 29 '12 at 11:03
Mohan Gulati
111 points


I really like the idea of KickStartr type services that allow you to collect money, but only keep it if you follow through. It's a much better test to see if people will actually pay for something than just asking them "would you hypothetically pay for this thing?"

answered Apr 26 '12 at 22:30
Scott Wilson
250 points
  • KickStarter is great for B2C products where you can excite consumers right on the spot and entice them to place an order for the product. It's less of an option for B2B products, though. – Hans Fremuth 12 years ago


Read The Lean Startup, period. It's all about validation and experimentation through building minimal viable products while spending the least amount of time and money.

answered Apr 29 '12 at 10:54
1 point

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