How to validate app, product and web site ideas

In my work at Ballistiq, I get many people coming to us for a quote on building an app or a website. On some occasions we have had to stop the prospect and ask them if they have validated their idea before engaging us to build it. This irks some of them, but they have generally responded very well. We have saved some clients tens of thousands of dollars by stopping them from building something nobody wants and they love us because of this. The issue is that if you don’t validate an idea for an app before you go out and build it, you are really spending a ton of money and time on something that may just be stabbing in the dark.

I am going to spend a number of articles speaking about validation and how to do validation. In this part I’m really going to give an overview of it, why it is important to do validation and what you must do. More meat will be in future articles when I delve into the actual presentation that you use for validation.

Why validate?

So you have an idea for a product. You think this idea is going to be great! You just need to get it built. It’ll be so cool!

So you think.

But what if they don’t use it? What if you spend a whole lot of time and money, and other people’s time and money to build this amazing product. And only a few people respond?

You might blame the execution. “Oh if only we did it this way…” or marketing, “If we only put a massive marketing budget behind this…”

But what if your idea actually was flawed to begin with? What if the people you are trying to sell to just aren’t that into it?

What if you could save all that time and money, and know that your idea will or won’t work?

You can. It’s not that hard. In fact, it’s common sense. It’s called “validation”.

Talk to at least 5 people who will use and pay for your product.

Show them what you want to do. Test market your proposed product to them. Ask them if it solves their problem. Would they pay for it? How much would they pay for it? What features are important to them? What are the deal breakers?

Just ask at least 5 people in your target market. You’ll be shocked at how much honest feedback you will get!

We’ve had people tell us everything.

They have said, “yes I’d buy that!” and “I’d pay $20 a month for it!” They have told us what features are important to them and which ones aren’t. They’ve told us deal breakers and no-nos. This is extremely valuation information that we use to build products.

We’ve also had people tell us that they just don’t need or want our product. Some have said that they like our product but when we asked them how much they would pay for it, they said they wanted it free. And that’s fine! We have saved ourselves and others a whole lot of time and money by validating first.

Most times, the idea isn’t completely flawed. It’s just that people are more interested in certain aspects of it. Validation shed light on this so that we could pivot the idea to something better. We didn’t waste time building something that people didn’t want.

Why don’t people validate?

As human beings, I believe that it is our natural tendency to value our ideas. Because we value them, we tend to protect them.

Validation is hard. It is emotional. You have to put something as personal as an idea out there for criticism. It’s fear that is preventing us from going out there and validating.

Sometimes it’s pride. People who have been in a business for a long time think a certain way and they have very strong beliefs that a certain thing will work because it has worked in the past. This is flawed! We have seen this fail over and over again especially in the fast-changing world of technology or with a newer generation of users.

Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant. Only the opinions of your users matter.

Sometimes it’s fear that others will steal the idea. I have never actually seen this happen. I have always had people tell me, “Oh yeah I had that idea too.” But ideas are useless without execution. They may and will likely have the same idea as you but they haven’t or can’t execute on the idea.

Ideas are like armpits. Everyone has two of them and they both stink!

How do you validate?

I recommend doing very lean validations:

1. Pre-validate

Just talk to at least 5 prospects who may use/buy your idea. When you talk to 5 people, you uncover about 90% of the issues that they are having.

2. Do a validation wave

Once you have pre-validated, prepare a validation presentation. I will show you what you need in a validation presentation in a future post but you need to cover this: What the problem is. What is your proposed solution? Show a demo of wireframes/drawings (no screen comps at this point). Would they use this? Would they pay for it? How much would they pay for it? What features are important to them? What are the deal breakers?

The validation wave consists of 5 targets prospects. Your goal is to try to test-sell to them. Each time you go, try to have someone with you to record the “Voice of the Customer.” or record the conversation and have it transcribed into text. It is important that you collect the “VOC” so that you can refer to it, because you forget quickly.

You will be shocked at how frank, forthcoming and helpful people are. You are not trying to sell them anything. You just want their opinion. Reward them by giving them an Amazon gift card.

If you have a team like other programmers and designers, I highly recommend that you bring them with you on this validation wave. Programmers are extremely cynical (I’m allowed to say this because I’m a programmer). We generally don’t believe that something as stupidly simple as this idea will fly — especially if it is a simple app idea. We believe that it has to be a more complex feat of engineering. Designers, on the other hand, tend to get excited easily even without validation and go overboard in designing intricate interfaces without fully understanding what the user’s problem is. Bring your team along so that your team is aligned and buy in to the project. I can’t tell you how much emotional stress it has solved by just bringing programmers and designers along so that they can hear real customers explaining problems and seeing the amazing dialogs occurring.

You don’t have to validate in person. You can validate using a tool like GoToMeeting. I find that it’s harder, but it can and does work.

3. Repeat validations and pivoting until you have a winner

Eventually you’ll hit on common themes among all these prospects. Adjust your presentation accordingly. Eventually you’re just singing to the choir and people just say, “That’s a no brainer. I’ll pay for that.”


Please do yourself a big favour. Get at least 5 people in your target market who would be prospective customers. Show them what you want to build. Validate. Keep validating until you are onto a winner. Then build your product, succeed, make money and remember this blog post.

Leonard Teo

It's my blog!