Product validation is not validating that the product works. It is the validation that our chosen market embraces, uses, and later (hopefully) needs our product
Today I would like to share with you one of the most important ‘light bulb’ phases that I have had to learn: Validating our product. It is the essence of every startup developing a product. Not only in terms of product life, readiness and use, but also in validating the essence of the company. Since we are developing only one product at the beginning, making sure that it works and it is well adopted within an environment is crucial to the company. It is the spine on which the business model, budget and investment are later built. Moreover, if we do it properly and get it right early enough in the process, investments are usually very quick to follow.
Product validation is not validating that the product works. It is the validation that our chosen market embraces, uses, and later (hopefully) needs our product.
In order to properly work the product into the market there are several strongly suggested stages that we should undergo. The purpose of these stages is to firm each level of adaptation via learning and analyzing and implementing changes in an agile way. As opposed to just launching the product and seeing what happens. The core is to build a solid backbone (the shape of the product) and then polish it according to market use and/or demand (feature development). This combination of a strong basic infrastructure and agile work gives us the basis for the golden formula. It is up to us to find the proper dosage of agility.
Here is an example for 2 different launches done by Google:
Google Wave (live multi chat): remember that great Google Wave live launch? After they broadcasted their very public launch, it was anticipated that we will adopt, at least partially, the use of Google Wave. Needless to say, it did not quiet happen as they expected. That does not mean that Google Wave was not a great product, it just meant that the public did not go through the embracing stage properly. A few months later, Google launched Google Plus in a very different way. It was done in stages and by invitation with a much supervised media. The lesson here is that even the largest of companies with millions of users are not above the need to validate their product.
The infrastructure work that done prior to release will pay off very quickly, primarily in terms of investment.
Alas, the basic suggested stages:
Stage 1: Limit the amount of features that you would like to test (Lesson 2):
In order to pick the ‘right’ features, analyze competitors in your market with respect to their most popular aspects/features. For each competitive product, analyze and determine why that product is or is not successful. Doing that, you will most probably discover a pattern of use. It is then best to take a feature or 2 that are already adopted by the market and add one killer feature of your own. This is a process of making sure (as best as possible) that the product will be used.
Example: When Waze released its GPS, it released a standard (initially not so great) GPS with the killer feature of being free. At that time its market had no free GPS available. The market was therefore tolerant and adoptive.
Many successful products follow this lead. Not all great products were the first ones out. Take a look at this interesting article:
Just as a side note: If your product is a completely new innovation, then there is an additional factor of market education, which is a different story and will be addressed in a later section.
Stage 2: Release the product as early as possible:
Choose a tolerant market. The initial market where we would like to test the product is more than likely to be our chosen launch market as well. Such a market should be adoptive, understanding and forgiving (It usually is via getting paid). There are several tools today that help us perform initial testing. Some examples are:
- Amazon testing services – where we can release a ‘job’ to testers. We define the type of test that we would like them to perform and how much we are willing to pay them for it. This is an incredible service. The downside is that in terms of releasing multiple jobs to many users, administration here becomes a bit complex; but nothing too major.
- UTest – provides you with an organized tool that helps you test your product according to your specified criteria in terms of testing and in terms of testers. This is one of the best tools I have worked with.
- Fiverr and Fiverr like – provides you with a $5 platform. You can post a job for users around the globe, all under one umbrella price. This is a place to get creative and optimize your testing. In all 3 examples, the testers are ‘emotion free’ users and often may not even know what company issues the testing and/or whether the specified assignment was for validating a certain product. Such anonymous and unbiased results provide the most objective analysis.
Stage 3: analyze your results and test again:
Many times we hear form VCs; “Show me that the product works and come back.” When I first discovered the world of product validation I was led to believe that the textbook way of releasing a product is the way to go. In time, I came to understand that we should take it up a notch. This step forward is a risk reduction in market response. This means that we should do everything in our power to make sure the product will be embraced by the market.
Here are a few tips to lower the risk of market rejection:
- Embrace already well known/properly working features and add your twist to them. Dan Ariely, in his bestselling book Predictably Irrational shows that in an experiment, consumers who faced with a choice of 3 products of which 2 where alike and one was considerably different, would chose the one that was better among that 2 similar products.
- Use an early adaptive tool several times until you discover a certain pattern. This pattern is imperative because it lowers the uncertainty of results in the open market.
- The release point of your product will get close when your pattern shows positive results closer to what you anticipated.
- When testing, look holistically at the use of the product first and then at the use of specific features.
- Spend as much time as is necessary on this phase of testing. It will pay off in the long run.
If I had to condense my lessons into one important message, this is it: Test your product as early as possible with the proper tools available to you.