When browsing on social media praised by entrepreneurs such as indiehackers or producthunt, you may come across many posts in which people are asking for feedback, and seeking approval. While requesting feedback is a great thing to do, there are other ways to ensure your business idea is worth it.
Why would you need to validate your idea?
This may sound obvious, but we don't hear about those entrepreneurs who may have a great idea but didn't develop a solution that fits the needs of their audience. They end up spending time, money, and energy on a product that is doomed to failure because they didn't validate it before.
Get to know what your customers need because they're the ones who will buy your product. Being passionate about your idea is excellent, and it is the fuel that will make your business go further. But if you don't know what road you're supposed to take to get to your destination, then what's the point?
So without further ado, here is a little step-by-step guide to validate your idea in the B2B world.
1. Define the problem you think is worth solving
Start with brainstorming and doing some research on problems faced by companies or by a particular type of company in the daily lives of the people working there. The problem you'll choose has to be a pain point for them, something they spend too much on (time, money, energy, employees, you name it).
Think if it really has the potential to bother businesses or if it's something they can easily live with. For example, Mike and Susan might both be really annoyed with answering their business emails and declare they'd be ready to give a million to have someone do it for them. But if they only have one or two emails to answer monthly, don't bother developing a product saving 10 minutes of their months.
Once you've found this pain point making tasks more difficult for these businesses, you're ready to start step 2.
2. Define your solution
Now is the time to think about what you could put in place to relieve companies or certain job positions (e.g., telecommunication or aviation companies, developers or accountants) from the problem you found earlier.
Think of what already exists and how it works: does it solve the problem efficiently enough? Fast enough? How much time or money does it cost? How qualified must one be to use this solution? Does it create other problems on the side… Make a list of each existing solution, its advantages, and its drawbacks. The benefits you'll see in a solution must remain in yours if you want to be competitive, and the disadvantages will be something your solution does not contain. Your answer doesn't have to be perfect, but if you want to have a competitive advantage, you'll have to develop something less flawed than what is already on the market.
You can think innovatively as well: what brand new solution could you come up with that would be unique and distinguishable?
Now this second way of thinking will make the whole adventure more complicated and riskier. Why? Because when you think of building something inspired by what already exists, you're putting the first step in a pre-existing market. You might wonder, "how is it a good thing to set foot on a market where I'll find products that will be similar to mine, where I'll be competing for my share at all times?"... Well, this simply means your idea has potential. If someone already proposed a comparable solution before, it means it works. It means people are ready to buy it. From another perspective, if you're launching a product that is conceptually different from anything else on the market, that it's so innovative no one thought about it before, it probably means there is something wrong with it (with the idea, with the technology, or even with the customers).
The idea you'll come up with doesn't have to be too elaborate because you'll finish developing with your audience's help. This brings up step 3. Fasten your seatbelt, write your core idea down, and let's start reaching out!
3. Begin with your public outreach campaign
This step is decisive, as it basically is where you'll start validating the idea you've built in the first two steps.
The only thing you'll need before beginning is a LinkedIn account, as it is one of the best media to have a first professional chat. The campaign process can be significantly simplified. If you don't have a LinkedIn account or have an old one you don't really use, it's totally fine. Having no connections at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey apart from people you've worked with or been in school with does not mean it will stay that way. If you connect with people properly and efficiently, you can end up with more than a thousand people reading what you post. So create your account, fill in the information to give you some background for people who don't know you, connect with a few people to get more credibility, and let's dive into the serious business!
- Reaching out
Define your target audience very precisely with a LinkedIn job title and company filters. For example, if you want to create a solution for developers of computer apps in the English-speaking world, your can pick for the categories Locations / Industry / Service categories the filters US + UK + Canada + Australia (among others) / Computer Software + Information Technology & Services / Software Development, and add the keyword "developer" further in the filters.
Now you have a more or less precise list of people you could contact. The preciseness depends on the number of filters you added: the more categories you decide to filter, the fewer people you'll find, but the more compatible they will be. The more filters in each category you add, the more the search is extended.
Reach out to the profiles you find interesting and compatible with the product you want to create: send a connection request, joined with a generic message giving compliments (on their journey, on their accomplishments…), and ask for help. As an indie hacker yourself, it might not come off as a surprise for you, but people are usually happy to help. Maybe not the majority of the people you'll get in touch with, but a decent enough amount. The connection requests will help your profile become more legitimate and professional, so even when people don't reply, accepting to join your circle is already a win. In conversations, suggest setting up a meeting (or a call, depending on what you and the people you're interacting with prefer).
To those who accept without replying to your text, write a follow-up message. It will show you're genuinely willing to get their help. Add a calendly link to schedule a meeting without needing them to interact with you through text to make the process easier for them.
Don't forget to check LinkedIn daily to see who has replied and is interested or would like more details. For the latter, have a more detailed message ready.
WARNING: in each of the messages you're going to send before having this meeting with your contact, do not mention your idea, or at least not explicitly, as it would result in a biased reaction from them, and you would not be able to rely on their response.
- During the meeting/call
Start with a short intro of what you want to do on this call because you don't want to waste the time of the people who have misunderstood your generic message. Say who you are, what you do, and why you need their opinion. Just don't mention your idea for the same reason as the one mentioned a few lines above. Instead, explain what problem you want to fix, say what stage in the process you're at, and speak about the weakness of your project, which usually is the part the person you're discussing with can help you on.
Then, ask them high-level questions about their job, so you make sure to understand who they are and where they fit into their company. Get to know in which group of possible customers you can put them. You may keep a list of specific job titles/functions with names and interest score for each interview you do in this category.
Then start with the more specific questions about their daily work life and how they spend their time. This is the principal part where you'll find out the valuable information that will help you understand if your idea is good or not.
A few examples of good questions include:
- How do you do X? What do you like and dislike about X? Have you looked for a replacement for X, and if so, why?
- How much do you currently pay to solve this problem? How much time do you spend work on it?
- How are you dealing with X? What are the implications of that?
A few examples of things to avoid:
- Mentioning your idea, as the person you'll be speaking with will want to be nice to you and approve of it in front of you no matter what they really think.
- Asking questions based on hypothesis and on the future, as they cannot predict if the reaction they'll have would be the same as the one they think they would have.
- Telling them what problem they have and overselling your idea. It is possible that the person you're talking with doesn't have the problem you want to fix, or that this problem only represents a minor inconvenience for them.
For more tips to get ready for this interview session, reading the Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick is strongly recommended. With this book, you'll learn to avoid bad data, to spot the right and wrong questions to ask, and to dig deeper into your interviewees' minds.
4. Get to understand your market's mechanics
This part might be less fun if you're not a market analyst, but you'll need to get through it before reaching the final step and being proud of what you accomplished.
- The benchmark session
For those who are not used to big marketing terms, a benchmark is simply definable as a concurrent analysis. For this point, you may reach out to other companies with products that would compete with yours to understand how they are solving the problem. Schedule meetings with them and ask basically everything you want to know before launching your product. You can ask about what they find difficult, what they would have liked to know before starting their business, how tough the competition is, how many customers they have, etc.
- Your bottom-up market size estimate
Give yourself an estimate of the market size by looking at how many people there are on LinkedIn with your target job categories. How much time can you save them? How much does their time usually cost?
This is your bottom-up market size estimate. The result you have here will tell you if your idea is profitable. By then, you should know if you're on the right track, if you can modify your idea, or if it's probably better to give it up.
Then, make a list of companies in the field. You can use https://corepo.org, https://us.kompass.com/, https://www.crunchbase.com/ to make sure you don't miss any target company that doesn't appear for some reason in LinkedIn search. Using an estimate of hours saved per company (as a percentage of their workforce being our target), you can finally improve the market sizing. This list of companies also helps for your next and final phase, which is systematic B2B sales outreach.
5. Test a demo version of your product
Start this step with building a crappy but good-looking version of your product. It's fine if only 1% of this version is real tech and 99% is fake. What matters is that you actually have something to showcase it to potential investors. I insist that it has to look good: as it is just a demo version, people won't expect to see something functioning perfectly with plenty of cool features. This is what you'll present with words only. Instead, they will have to visualize what your finished product is supposed to look like. They have to find it appealing and to want more of it, to want you to keep working on it and releasing something great.
Now is the time to introduce your prototype to potential investors and potential co-developers. In this demonstration phase, show how you use your product. Insist on the benefits, and the future opportunities. Make them understand you have significant ambitions for your product while being open to suggestions and constructive criticism. Detail who would benefit from your product (hence the list of companies you made in the last step).
This session is decisive, as that's where you'll understand if your idea really is worthwhile: if people are ready to invest at an early stage with real money, you truly have a product that matters for this industry.
After following these steps, you should be 100% sure your idea is worth spending time and money on it. It may seem like a long process, but nothing is worse than launching a product without having the idea properly validated beforehand, and ending up wasting your time, your money and especially your energy on something that was doomed from the beginning without knowing it.