Lessons from an early startup

December 06, 2020

Seek validation from 2nd degree connections (3rd is okay too)

Seeking validation is the opposite advice I would give from a psychological perspective, but a lot of things are backwards for startups so… 🤷‍♂️

I’m assuming that:

  • you’re in an earlier stage startup (pre-product-market fit)
  • you’re actively researching and working on the idea
  • you’ve heard that validating ideas is a good exercise

Hopefully it’s clear what we’re talking about so the followup will be observations of why and how.

If you haven’t heard this advice before, then it is my honor to be the first to tell you.

Why should I validate (or invalidate) my ideas? What does it do for me?

It saves you time, energy, headache, and heartache.

Invalidating: The quicker you learn that no one wants what you have, the more you stay sane. Nothing stings quite like days or weeks of hard work topped off with no one to appreciate it.

Validating: The more you learn about peoples’ problems, the better your solution will address their needs. To be clear, this is not about asking whether or not you have a good idea. In the end, it’s always about them (the users and customers) so they need to feel like their needs are met.

Okay I guess that makes sense. How do I go about doing this?

Ask your friends and family for help with interviews. Ask your coworkers and network if they can spare some time. Ask if any of the above know anyone who would be willing to chat with you. At this point, any conversation will help socialize the idea or give you more insights.

Start by explaining the context of your idea. What industry is it related to? What are challenges in that industry? What experiences and interactions have they had with that industry? Your goal is to set the stage and listen. Get their perspective of where problems exist and push them to come up with solutions.

This will help you define your idea and refine the best way to explain it. Be careful about adjusting too much to feedback from friends and family.

What’s wrong with feedback from friends and family?

Nothing is inherently wrong with it. It’s about setting the right expectation and how much you allow their feedback to influence you.

Where it can go wrong is taking supportive feedback at face value. People are polite, even when we asked them not to be (we asked them to be brutally honest). They’re a great support system to help socialize ideas but your ideal customers might be further out where you have to find them.

That’s all for now! Hope it was helpful and here’s a quick refresher list.

What I should have learned

  • improve your interview script and questions
  • get unbiased feedback (at least 2nd degree connections)
  • listen more than you speak
  • don’t lead the witness
  • keep your past interviewees updated and involved