Validating Product Ideas

In our last post, we covered Brainstorming Product Ideas and today we’ll look at ways to validate those ideas and figure out which ones deserve your time.

First things first, be prepared to spend significant time validating, and validating multiple ideas. Remember, you are about to commit a meaningful amount of time to this project. You will miss family and friend time for this project. It would be good to know ahead of time what your challenges and risks are going to be.

All About the Pains

I like to group apps into two groups, those which are entertaining or ornamental to my life, and those that solve problems and relieve pain. It you are in this to sell a product then I recommend you think about pain right now. What are the pains of your target market and how is your product going to solve that pain.

One of the best ways to validate that the pain you are thinking about is a real world pain is to find examples of it expressed out in the real world.

  • Visit industry forums of that user base
    • Do they complain about this pain?
    • What are they using to solve this pain now?
    • Why is it not working?
  • Browse larger forums like Reddit, Hacker News and Product Hunt.
    • Document competitors.
    • Write down the jargon people use.
    • Find patterns in the successful products listings.
  • Visit your competitors websites, customer forums and help documentation.
    • What are users complaining about?
    • What is the competitor doing well?
    • What is the competitor doing not so well?
    • How do they talk to their users?
    • How do they describe their solutions?
  • Attend a conference or meetup that has your target demographic.
    • Ask what they use to solve this pain?
    • What do they like about their current solution?
    • What don’t they like?

When you are doing all of the above, take lots of notes. These should feed nicely into how you end up marketing your product. You’ll know the terms your users prefer and the way they describe their problems.

There is a class run by some fellow IndyHallers called 30x500 for people who want to start a product business. I am sadly not a a alumni (yet) but have read some of their materials. They too focus on pain, even to the point of recommending that you start with that research first, before ideas. It’s a valid argument and does solve a problem many people face where they are too attached to the idea and thus end up clouding their judgement of it. If you get a chance I highly recommend checking out their back catalog of content and blog posts.

Idea Questionare

The following was a questionnaire I drafted during a CocoaHeads workshop on Product Marketing techniques delivered by Joe Cieplinski. I’ve found it very helpful when comparing my ideas to each other. Each question isn’t a make or break-it thing, but put all together should help you take stock of the challenges you’ll run into executing an idea.

For each of your product ideas answer the questions below.

  • Unique - How common or groundbreaking is this idea?
  • Competition - Who has competing solutions in the market place? Describe them. What are they doing right? What could they do better?
  • Market Size - How big is the market for this idea? How much money can we look to make?
  • Underserved / Overserved - How much competition is there compared to the size of the market?
  • Domain Knowledge - How much domain knowledge is needed for this app? Do I have it? How do I get it?
  • Level of Effort - How hard will it be to execute on this idea? Does this solution require venture capital? How much time do I need to invest to know if I can be successful?
  • Reachability - How accessible is the audience for this prepossessed solution. Are they liable to buy from an indie developer?
  • Value - How much value are we providing. Is this a “need” or a “want”? Can people get by without it?
  • Cost of Maintenance - Are there long term maintenance costs related to this solution? Server costs? Licensing costs? Support costs?
  • Outside Forces - What will effect this solution that I can not control?
  • Platform Restrictions - What are they? Do we need to verify we’ll get through “app review” sooner than later? Is this a better idea for the web or native mobile?
  • Obvious Benefits - How obvious is the value we are providing. How much time does it take to sell someone that they have the problem, and our solution is the best fix for it.
  • Sustainability - How will the market / environment change over time. How does this effect the product? Will I be interested in this problem a year from now? Five years from now?

What About Interviewing?

Many people these days like to follow the Lean Startup method. I myself actually agree with a lot of the core values of Lean Startup. However when it comes to the practice of interviewing people to gain product idea validation, I’m less convinced. One reason is that we are, generally speaking, poor interviewers. We don’t know how to ask the right questions, we are inherently tainted in that we are too close to the idea and many times the people you are interviewing either answer in a way they think will please you or are overly confident in predicting their actual behavior.

When it comes to product validation, while I’m not against some interviewing, I would value more behavioral observation.


Validation takes significant time. There is no way around it. Skipping or skimping on validation however is far too risky. Your personal time is the most valuable thing you own and you need to make sure you are spending it wisely.

In our next post we’ll talk about kicking off a new software project, some of tools and practices to consider.


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