How to validate product ideas
Figuring out whether or not your product idea is worth working on can be really difficult. You've probably thought of the idea because you've identified a problem that you, or people around you have had, and you've got a solution for it.
That's great, but also needs to be looked at critically to decide if it's worth moving forward on.
Validate your product idea by trying to invalidate it
Yeah, you read that right. You actually want to try and invalidate your idea rather than see if it's something people would like. Start with the core of your idea. As an example, if I had an idea for a product that would help people take care of their indoor plants, I would:
- Find a small group of people who have indoor plants
- Ask them how they currently care for their plants: This tells you the current system they're using
- Ask them what problems they have caring for them and why it's a problem: This tells you how their current system is failing them, and why it matters to them. They why is important because this is what people will want to solve
- Ask them what their desired state is for their houseplants: This tells you their goals
You find the patterns in the conversation. As an example, their goal might be to have healthy, happy, flowering plants. And a problem pattern across the people you talked to might be that everyone mentioned they don't know when to water their plants.
With this understanding, you can now see if or how your product idea can solve problems that you know exist.
You may notice we haven't talked at all about the idea that you actually had for the product. That's because one of the biggest takeaways from this exercise is that with product research it's especially important to go in trying to invalidate your idea rather than validate it. We are creatures prone to bias, so if you go in trying to find all the reasons your idea is the right one, you'll always be able to validate it by asking leading questions. Going into product research trying to invalidate your idea and truly understand what people are doing and why will de-risk your product idea much better.
Make sure you're solving a valuable problem
There are problems, and then there are real problems. How do you know what the difference is?
Let's use the example from above. Some of the problems people might have caring for their houseplants could be: making sure that they're watering their plant correctly, making sure their plant has new leaves, making sure their plant has flower, or making sure their plant is bug free.
Of these problems, only one of them has huge value and that's the one about watering their plants. Here's why. If someone waters their plant incorrectly (too much or too little water) the plant will die. There is no getting around this.
It's a valuable problem because it directly inhibits their ultimate goal, which is to have a healthy, thriving plant.
The other problems listed definitely make their plant less beautiful, but they often don't result in the plant dying. So, they're problems that have some value, but solving the watering issue is the "root" (hahaha, I'm so funny) of their issue. Solving that problem is something they haven't been able to do for themselves, and keeps them from attaining their goal.
When trying to identify if a problem is valuable or not, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the problem inhibit or severely delay their ultimate goal?
- Do they currently have a workaround for the problem?
- If there’s a workaround, what’s the switching cost to go to a new solution?
Understand the why
I mentioned this above, but taking the time to ask people what they're doing and why they do it that way will open up possibilities that you might not ever have thought of. We each accomplish our tasks in so many different ways that being able to pick out the patterns and understand the why behind it will give you new solutions to problems you probably didn't even know existed.