What is idea validation in product discovery?

14 min read
April 25, 2023

Idea validation is one of the key benefits you get by doing product discovery.

If you’re a startup with a bold new idea or an established company developing a new product, you’ll need to validate your idea before launch.

Not validating your product idea before launch is equivalent to jumping off a cliff without even checking if there’s a body of water underneath you.

To put it mildly, it’s a risky proposition.

So, what even is idea validation in product discovery? And how do you do it?

Let’s find out!

The basics of idea validation

Idea validation is the process of determining your product idea’s viability in the market.

It’s also one of the most important benefits of doing product discovery.

idea validation

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The process of idea validation involves testing your product idea by various means and it’s an essential part of the broader product discovery process.

You then use the data and feedback you gather during the validation process to determine whether or not you should pursue your product idea further.

Idea validation challenges your initial assumptions about your product and its odds of success.

Of course, it’s understandable that you wholeheartedly believe in your idea.

Being confident that your product will provide value to your customers and will be successful is by no means a bad thing.

But not every idea ends up being viable, for a variety of reasons.

Idea validation, and product discovery more broadly, exist to determine whether or not an idea is worth pursuing i.e. if there’s a market need for your product.

It’ll also help you work out how you can modify your initial idea to maximize the chances of success.

Validating your product idea helps you find the target audience for your product, too.

Investing time and money into a product idea without validating it first carries huge risks.

On top of that, idea validation allows you to minimize those risks.

Now let’s discuss some of the benefits of validating your product idea before building it.

Why is idea validation in product discovery important? 

Having covered the basic definition of idea validation, let’s now talk about the 3 major reasons it’s important.

Confirms your idea’s market potential

One crucial question you need to answer is if your product idea has market potential i.e. if there’s even a need for it on the market.

That’s where market research comes in. 

Basic market facts

Basic market facts

To start, you need to determine some basic facts about the market your product will be targeting.

Market size and market growth are essential information for determining the viability of your product idea.

If a market is too small, you might not be able to make much profit but if it’s too big it may already be oversaturated and you’ll struggle to stand out.

Your target market’s growth dynamics are also key to deciding whether or not to target a particular market.

If a market is stagnant or shrinking it might not make sense to target it unless you’re confident you can corner it or that your product idea is revolutionary.

On the other hand, if a market is growing rapidly, you’ll need to act fast in order to avoid being lost in a sea of competitors.

Market research will provide you with all the necessary information you’ll need to decide to either target your chosen market or pivot to a niche that hasn’t been filled properly yet.

Determining whether or not your product idea can be profitable is one of the most important data points you get from market research.

Let’s say you wanted to build a music streaming app.

The music streaming industry is dominated by several big players (Spotify, Apple Music and  Amazon Music to name a few) making it an extremely tough market to compete in.

Unless you can provide revolutionary new features and functionalities it would be wise to target a different market.

Regardless, it’s always a good move to do a SWOT analysis of your competitors and study their UI design and functionality.

Identifies your target audience

Likely the most important insight you’ll get by validating your idea during product discovery is identifying the target audience for your product.

Benefits of idea validation

Benefits of idea validation

Knowing your target audience is an essential element of idea validation.

It’s extremely important for the overall success of your product discovery, too.

Finding your target audience is sometimes also called market validation.

Your target audience should be the bedrock of your product design and targeting the right groups of people is crucial to the success of your product idea.

Without the right audience, you won’t be able to get your product to a product-market fit.

Product-market fit simply means your product effectively fulfills the needs of your target market in a manner that allows for growth and profitability.

Startup coach and venture capitalist, Marc Andreessen, highlighted the importance of product-market fit:

“The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.

Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.”

So, how do you identify your target audience?

Surveys, user interviews and questionnaires are good places to start.

We’ll discuss those processes later.

Another very useful tool to use when nailing down your target audience is a user persona.

A user persona is a fictionalized representation of your ideal customer(s). Essentially, user personas are templates you can use to help you tailor your products to your customers’ needs.

They contain information ranging from the basics (gender/age/income) to their specific needs and frustrations regarding your market.

All in all, identifying your target audience is one of the most important functions of idea validation and doing it correctly maximizes your product idea’s chances of success.

Minimizes costs and risks

Risks are an unavoidable part of doing business but they’re especially severe when you’re launching a new product.

The risks are multiplied if you don’t go through with idea validation.

Let’s revisit the music streaming example from earlier to illustrate this point.

Let’s imagine that you haven’t done idea validation but decided to go through with launching your product anyway.

You hire developers, designers, and marketers and spend a fortune to make sure your app is top-notch and works perfectly.

What are your odds of success? Knowing the state of the market, they are extremely low.

Did you get a product-market fit? The market is already saturated by big players with loyal users whose needs they fulfill and who have no incentive to change their habits and pick your product.

According to CBInsights, 35% of startups fail because there’s no market need for their product – this is the second most common reason for failure, behind only running out of funds.

Top reasons startups fail

Top reasons startups fail

Had they validated their ideas, a number of those failed startups could’ve potentially refined their initial idea or pivoted to another market where it would’ve been easier to get a product-market fit.

Even running out of money can be linked to not doing enough to validate their idea – many of the same startups that failed because there was no market need for their products also ran out of money for the same reason.

Idea validation is extremely beneficial to minimizing the risk of the same happening to your product idea.

What does the idea validation process look like?

We’ve covered why idea validation is important and some benefits you get by doing it.

Now it’s time to cover the process of idea validation in detail from start to finish.

Idea validation process

Idea validation process

Idea validation is commonly done in 4 stages:

  • Setting your initial goals
  • Creating a hypothesis
  • Conducting tests and experiments
  • Continuing with product discovery or pivoting to another idea

Let’s dive in!

Setting your initial goals

The first step to idea validation is setting your initial goals.

These initial goals should be simple and easily understood, they’re meant to guide you through the idea validation process.

Smart goal setting

Smart goal setting

They represent the objectives you want to achieve during and after the idea validation process.

Some examples of initial product idea validation goals you can set are:

  • Get 100 potential customers to respond to your questionnaire
  • Get 15 customers to respond positively to your product idea
  • Get 10 pitch meetings for your product
  • Create a minimum viable product (MVP)

Think of these goals as the first steps to achieving your product vision i.e. fulfilling the long-term mission you hope to achieve with your product.

When setting your goals, you should follow the SMART framework and your goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Using the SMART framework will ensure your idea validation goals are clear-cut and definitive, preventing you from setting aspirational, vague goals which would make the idea validation process much harder.

Being clear about what you want to achieve will make the rest of the idea validation process flow much more smoothly.

Without clearly defined goals providing a foundation for the rest of the idea validation process, and your product discovery in general, you’ll have a much tougher time determining whether or not your product idea is viable or not.

Creating a hypothesis

The next step after setting your goals is creating a product hypothesis.

A hypothesis is a statement that contains a belief you hold about your product, users or market.

Process of creating a hypothesis

Process of creating a hypothesis

Any hypothesis you make is based on assumptions you have about your product idea and its development.

Assumptions are based on the initial goals you’ve set for your app and they can be as simple as “our users will find value in our product”.

They even develop subconsciously.

Hypothesis are formulated by taking an assumption you have and expanding it into a testable and verifiable statement.

A key element of testing a hypothesis is that it has to be falsifiable i.e. that it can be reasonably disproven.

Idea validation isn’t there just to confirm that your product idea is great, it’s there to prove whether or not an idea is viable.

Falsifiability is therefore key to the validation process.

You should always start by formulating a hypothesis based on your most critical assumption.

Let’s imagine you’re creating an online car buying app.

Your critical assumption would be that people are on board with purchasing a car through an app.

Your hypothesis, then, can be the following: “we believe our users will be comfortable using an app to purchase a car”.

Now it’s up to you to prove or disprove this hypothesis.

Considering the online car buying market size is expected to reach 722 billion dollars by 2030 with a compound annual growth rate of 12.21%, this hypothesis is proven correct from the get-go.

The next step in the idea validation process is proving this hypothesis even further with tests and experiments.

Conducting tests and experiments

The tests and experiments you’ll perform during the idea validation process are going to be varied both in scope and complexity.

There is no perfect formula for idea validation. 

Whether or not you use a certain test method depends on your product idea, your preferences and information you might already possess.

Regardless, the best place to start is market research.

We’ve already discussed the ins-and-outs of doing market research and why it’s an important benefit of the idea validation process.

To reiterate, some of the questions you’ll answer by doing market research are:

  • Is there a need for your product?
  • Do you have a product-market fit?
  • What are the target market’s growth dynamics?
  • Who’s your target audience?
  • Who are your competitors?

That way you’ll have a more defined idea about what your product should do.

A/B testing

A/B testing

Some of the methods you can use to validate your idea at this stage are:

  • User surveys/questionnaires
  • A/B testing
  • Social media research
  • Competitor analysis
  • Blogs
  • Landing page

User feedback is key to successfully validating your product idea. Your future users should be centered during the entire product discovery process.

If you’ve validated your product idea’s market feasibility, the next step is to validate it’s technical feasibility

Let’s stick to our online car buying app, as an example, and briefly explain some app validation tools.

There are three app validation tools you should use – proof of concept (POC), prototype and minimum viable product (MVP).

A POC is there to determine whether or not your idea is technically feasible.

However, it can also be used to gauge market demand and customer interest.

A prototype is a mockup of your app with limited functionality and it’s used in usability testing and to validate the user experience (UX).

An MVP is a bare-bones but functioning version of your app that can be launched. MVPs are used to prove to your users that your app is effective and functional.

All of these tests and experiments are essential validation tools and using them can easily mean the difference between a successful and a failed product.

Continuing with product discovery or pivoting to another idea

If you’ve set and accomplished your initial goals, formulated and validated your hypothesis and conducted your tests and experiments while receiving positive feedback from your users, your idea has been fully validated.

In truth, by the time you’ve built and tested an MVP you’ve almost reached the end of the initial product discovery process.

Idea validation is only one part of the broader product discovery process, possibly its most important part, even.

product discovery

Learn more about our discovery process →

App development starts with product discovery…

Validating your idea is one of the key benefits of doing product discovery.

So, you might be wondering, why (and how) can you continue with product discovery?

The answer is continuous product discovery.

The end-users of your product should be the element you pay the most attention to because without them, your product idea will remain exactly that – an idea.

Continuous discovery centers user feedback in the discovery process and uses it consistently to improve your product.

If we think in terms of idea validation, continuous discovery constantly re-validates your product idea and new features you might add.

But, what do you do if your idea fails to be validated? Let’s say that your critical assumption turns out to be wrong, what should your next step be?

The smartest thing to do is to go back to the drawing board and pivot to another idea.

Getting hung up on a particular idea even if it’s demonstrably proven to not be viable is the worst thing you can do.

Pick out another product idea, refocus and start the next idea validation process.

Idea validation summary

So, why should you always validate your ideas?

Let’s summarize some of the benefits of idea validation:

  • You’ll confirm your idea’s market potential
  • You’ll identify your target audience
  • Your costs and risks will be minimized

Let’s also summarize the idea validation process itself:

  • Set your initial goals
  • Create a hypothesis
  • Conduct tests and experiments
  • Continue with product discovery or pivot to another idea

Idea validation is an essential part of the broader product discovery process and validating your idea is one of the main benefits of product discovery.

Without validating your idea you run the risk of failing to create a product that actually solves your user’s problems.

Going through with idea validation, on the other hand, you’ll increase your chances of success and minimize your risks.

If you want to learn more about product discovery in general, check out our 6-step guide to product discovery or contact us directly about our product discovery process.

Written by

Karlo Mihanovic

Tech Advisor

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