Startups validate their ideas at JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp

My 2nd weekly article for published yesterday

After resurfacing from ideation and the first shocks of understanding the expectations of investors, the JFDI-Innov8 Bootcamp teams have started focusing on customer* validation and development. The mentor feedback during the first two weeks was inspirational, but also very often led to contradicting ideas about the directions in which the products could be developed. The best way to decide is by testing all of them with potential customers.

The JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp follows the Lean Startup methodology, which emphasizes rapid prototyping and testing with users from early on. The underlying assumption is that there is no point in wasting your time and energy on developing a product only to discover later on that nobody wants it. Failing fast allows the team to ditch an idea and move on to the next one.

Many teams have rolled out their minimum viable products (MVPs)- the bare bones of the main feature of their idea and have started testing it out with their potential users and customers. Most of the teams have also found it useful to put up a website with waiting list or Facebook fan page to start gathering their early adopters around them. Even though quick validation makes sense rationally, it is often not so easy for the teams emotionally.

Daniel from Indonesian startup ‘Kark’ writes on the “How Do You Feel?” board at the JFDI jungle

Startup ideas are born in the minds of the founders. They see the vision of the ‘full experience’ they want to deliver to their customers. The minimum viable products are usually very far away from those ideals. Yet if your user doesn’t validate your idea at the first place, then most likely no Facebook integrations or design improvements will change that later on.

Adrian from Singaporean startup Gradeful tells: “I think it is very easy to delay shipping the MVP. It is just fear. Fear about what if it doesn’t work out. But we were very clear that we should just stick to it and see what the users say. Nothing speaks better than data and maybe from the user feedback we discover something we didn’t expect at all”.

Lizz from HobbyMash explains her vision to the joyful frogs on weekly Friday pitch

The basic principle of customer validation is to see if your assumptions about how the customers will relate to and use your product are true or false. Before every test the startups set very clear goals what they want to learn from this test.

Many teams have done questionnaires to see if their ideas are viable. Yet when drafting such questionnaires startups should be careful when asking people if they like the idea. The truth is that even if a person likes your idea, it doesn’t mean that she is going to use and/or pay for it.

Another option employed by many teams is to go out to the physical or virtual places where their potential users can be found to learn more about how they live, what they worry about and how the particular product could help them. Such interviews and observations usually provide the founders with very rich information and insights, but they also require some interviewing skills and take up quite some time.

Tudor from Flocations team interviewing people at the Beary Good Hostel and asking for their feedback

Presenting people with mockups is another option. Mockups allow startups to observe the reactions of the users and gain insights into the aspects that the users see as important or unclear. Mockups also allow for quick testing of various features or even pricing strategies.

Most of the JFDI-Innov8 mentors agreed that no matter what method you use to reach out to your potential users and/or customers, the sooner you do it the better it is. Mentor quotes about customer validation and development have been summarized here and here you can see what the chief executive frog vlog says about the importance of customer validation.

*I have used terms ‘users’ and ‘customers’ interchangeably, however, in many situations users of a product not necessarily are also the customers who pay for the product.