Nicolas Cognaux - Tech entrepreneur & engineer

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How to validate a startup idea

2020-04-26 Nicolas Cognaux 7 min readFrom Founder to CTO manager

This post is part of a series about the evolution of tech founder from the early beginning, to becoming CTO and manager in a startup. The entire series: From tech founder to CTO/Manager

I’ll try to depict my learnings, but also things that other founders experienced in their journey. I’m looking for the stories of other founders so don’t hesitate to contact me!


Before starting your company, you have to understand one thing: Time is the only resource you cannot get back.

With that in mind, you understand why it’s important to validate your idea as soon as possible and not waste time. This article explains how to validate your solution to a defined and confirmed problem and how to be sure you’ll find your first customers.

Interviews

The simplest way is to talk to your target and future customers. Try to find people that have the problem you want to solve. A well-known sentence in the startup world is ”Go out of the building”, and it’s exactly what you have to do first: Go talk to people in the street, your family, on the web,… You want to validate that the problem actually exists and that it’s not a small problem.

My interview notebooks

In that stage, be careful, never explain your solution, always try to understand the problem. Your solution will be adapted later. The solution doesn’t matter, you have to focus on the problem. For example, Netflix is solving the problem of getting movies at home. At first, their solution was a DVD rental service, not the platform we know today! When they switched to streaming, they kept the focus on the problem, with only a different solution.

In the interviews, you want to pay attention to multiple things:

  • Is the problem important for the users ? Is it costly, is it a real pain or just a small discomfort?
  • How do they cope with it currently ? What is the solution they are using currently?
  • Are there a lot of people impacted by this problem?

Those simple questions will help you visualize the market and its size. For this step, try to have at least 20 interviews! The book Lean Analytics, A. Croll explains this process well with a lot of detail and examples.

With the answers to those questions, and the input on the solutions people are currently using, you can think about your solution and confront it to the interviewees. Is it more convenient than their current workarounds? Are they willing to switch to your solution? How much are they wiling to pay?

Fake it until you make it

Another way to validate your solution, is simply to fake it. ”Fake it until you make it” is another well-known sentence in startups as this credo can be used for a lot of situations in the development of the company.

In this case, we mean to fake the existence of the solution, without having to actually develop it. The easiest way is to create a landing page that explains the solution. Present it as if it was already existing. Buffer did that well at their beginning with two versions of their landing page, one after the other:

  • Only the landing page with a subscribe form to measure the demand
  • They added a pricing selector to measure the features users wanted

Those allowed them to be sure of the problem, the audience, and the features they had to develop.

Building a landing page is easy and fast. There are numerous tools to build a landing page without coding anything: Instapage, Mailchimp, Webflow,…

The no-code solutions

When you are sure there is a problem and you identified it, then try the no-code solution.

Some code

As explained in the previous post (Your mission as tech founder), it’s possible to build an MVP without coding anything. It will depend on your solution and what you want to implement, but it’s possible to build nearly anything without coding at all.

E-commerce

If you want to sell online, from clothes, services, webinar or others, there are two big players on the market:

Shopify will let you build a complete e-commerce platform for you. You’ll be able to create a dedicated branded website and image, integrate it on your website, create your catalog, and start selling without having to think about things like payment platforms, hosting, coding the website,…

Gumroad is a marketplace that allows you to easily sell your products. You’ll not get a dedicated site like Shopify for your products, but it’s easy to use at the beginning and will let you sell easily without having to code anything. It can also help you advertise your products as they have a global search engine for products on the platform.

A custom marketplace (meet the offer and demand)

If you want to build a marketplace that will connect an offer with demand, let’s say you want to connect students with parents that need a babysitter, go for Airtable and Zapier:

Airtable is an “Excel on steroids” with multiple views. You can, for instance, have a table that will contain all the students (gathered via the Form view). You match and sort them manually in the table view, and display them to the parents in the Card view. By using only Airtable, you can propose a catalog of students ready to babysit to the parents ready to pay.

It’s even possible to send emails or connect Airtable to other services on the web. For that, use Zapier. It is a super powerful tool that helps automate multiple services. The idea is that Zapier will react to actions in a service (let’s say Airtable in our example), then trigger another service (for example send an email with Gmail). There are tons of combinations, so just go to their website to check the Zaps available.

I created an MVP of a food delivery platform with Airtable and Zapier. Discover how with the button bellow:

Airtable and Zapier are, in my opinion, the two best tools for building a custom marketplace where you have two publics: a supply and a demand. If you know others, shoot them in the comments section!

A website or complete web app

If you want a more custom solution, you can build it with tools like Webflow.

Webflow is a website builder that doesn’t require any coding skills. You can create landing pages, complete websites, and even complete apps on the platform. Building landing pages is super fast and it proposes a lot of pre-defined designs to use.

Webflow also allows exporting the generated code afterward. Letting you edit it with your dev team as your company starts.

It’s obviously not possible to cover all types of solutions. If your case isn’t covered by those tools, don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss how to test your startup idea without coding anything. Even for building a mobile app, solution that don’t require coding exist!

And now?

Now that you built your confirmation tools, just spread them! Try to direct traffic to your landing pages, your e-commerce platform,… You want to attract people. For each new subscriber, send them an email (with Zapier for instance) for feedback and discussion. You want to understand why they registered and what they are looking for. Early users are often keen to help you shape the project!


This post is part of a series about the journey from tech founder to CTO/Manager. Don’t hesitate to give feedback and follow me on Twitter to not miss the next posts!

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Nicolas Cognaux (Gp2mv3) - Tech entrepreneur & engineer

About Nicolas Cognaux

Entrepreneur and CTO. I’m an electrical engineer and passionate about software development. I post about technologies, entrepreneurship, projects, and geeky stuff. Follow me on social media to stay updated.

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