Avoid A Product Failure with These Expert Criteria for Idea Validation
Product validation is an essential aspect of a successful launch. By conducting it using minimum success criteria for product idea validation, entrepreneurs verify new business ideas and assess real target market demand.
Although the phase is so important, it’s often overlooked, and we continue to see a large proportion of new business ideas and digital product concepts failing.
As many as 95% of launches eventually disappear from the market. Why? CB Insights looked specifically at startup ideas and found two main reasons for their failure: 38% ran out of cash or could not raise more capital when required, and 35% discovered there was no market need for their business idea and product after they’d released it. The latter means many companies struggle with the product idea validation stage or skip it altogether, working solely on assumptions rather than strong market validity.
With that in mind, we’ve put together our top four success criteria for product idea validation: desirability, viability, feasibility, and integrity. Below, we explore each idea validation success factor in detail.
Why is product idea validation important?
Because it helps inventors achieve product-market-channel fit and market validation by testing initial ideas and business hypotheses against a set of success criteria for product idea validation.
If product-based business models are to scale and grow, they must accumulate and sustain a genuine user base of paying customers who use the product or service regularly. If the new product concept doesn’t add unique value or solve real customer problems, it’s doomed to fail.
As part of the product idea validation process, companies conduct extensive user and market research. That analysis is vital to building an understanding of real-world market conditions, clarifying the right target audience, defining user needs and pain points, achieving market validation, and checking whether the customer problem innovators want to solve actually exists. It’s all about making sure the right audience receives the right product through the right channels.
However, companies often rush straight into the development phase, convinced their business idea will truly disrupt the market. They fail to ask the necessary questions that could help them improve their product, or adjust its core features to true target market segment needs before they start building it.
As a result, many organizations release full-fledged products or services, only to discover they have no users.
In this article, we’ve gathered the top criteria for product idea validation, basic idea validation frameworks for the business idea validation process, and valuable tips from experts spanning businesses such as Bolt, Shopify, Dwolla, and more.
Top criteria for product idea validation
To avoid product failure, innovators should check their business ideas against specific validation criteria and idea validation frameworks designed to guide them through their product development journey. The Board Of Innovation suggests four criteria for product idea validation that we describe below.
Many new launches fail because there’s simply not enough or no demand for the product on the market. A successful product is one people actually buy. It should solve their problems and offer unique value.
To make sure a business idea meets these requirements and market validation is achieved, it’s necessary to research the target audience and evaluate their willingness to spend money before the launch. Once you gather feedback, you can leverage collected data and check the real target customer market demand for your product.
The questions below are useful when assessing a product’s desirability:
- Will this product solve real customer problems?
- What is its unique value proposition, and is it truly one of a kind?
- Will potential customers buy it?
Businesses often discuss the risk of potential failure. However, inventors should also be prepared for astonishing success. Think of the following scenario: A product is a perfect market fit and demand is rising, but the company doesn’t have enough resources or capacity to meet it. That’s why it’s important to prepare a scale and growth plan – this examines the action required to handle the increasing popularity of the product.
To evaluate startup idea viability, entrepreneurs should answer the following queries:
- Is the proposed business model scalable?
- Can we sustain the product in the long run?
Choosing the optimal set of tools and technologies tailored precisely for a launch is a must. Unfortunately, the greatest product concepts remain only as business ideas if you can’t build them. Feasibility analysis with your team and/or external vendors provides a perspective on a company's technological and operational capability to achieve the desired outcome.
Businesses should assess launch feasibility by examining solutions to questions like:
- Have we chosen the right, time-proof technology stack?
- Can we deliver this product from an operational perspective?
Great products should profit the company and also benefit society. Using integrity as a criterion for product idea validation provides a deeper understanding of the organization in terms of social acceptance and its influence on the environment. Incorporating company values in all decisions and giving back to the community play a significant role in achieving a genuinely successful business.
To check a product’s integrity, entrepreneurs should consider inquiries such as:
- Will this product have a positive impact on society and the environment?
- Does it respect the current working and living standards?
Innovators who answer the above questions positively (and provide specific arguments to support them) have a better chance of driving their new product to market success.
Useful product idea validation frameworks
Apart from product validation criteria, businesses can also benefit from a number of tried and tested frameworks designed to guide them through the product validation process. These include Lean Startup, Customer Development, Design Thinking, and Google Design Sprints.
No matter which framework you opt for, we always advise you to first ideate on the solution to identify a specific hypothesis. Next, define the target audience and unique value proposition, evaluate risks, and test the hypothesis against the previous findings. Finally, experiment with the results.
Here are examples of validation frameworks:
- Lean Startup: Leans on detailed validation, results in building the right product from the start, and only requires adapting changes as needed.
- Customer Development: Focuses on a deeper understanding of customer pains, hypotheses are tested, and problems’ solutions are validated.
- Design Thinking: Based on multi-lane actions taken in a non-linear way, a team explores parts of the process and applies results agilely.
- Google Design Sprint: Involves a five-day sprint, and results in answers for the critical questions without building or launching a minimum viable product.
Insights on product idea validation from experts
How do masters in their field validate assumptions and their business ideas in practice? We talked to specialists about the benefits and difficulties of the validation phase, what to focus on when conducting the idea validation process, and how to adjust it to individual needs. Here’s what ten professionals had to say about their approach to the product idea validation stage.
Deciding on core features of a product
General understanding of what makes a successful business idea validation process is a starting point. Then, it’s important to focus on more specific criteria applicable directly to your launch. For Daniel Thomason, during his time at Wise, the goal was for products to be “instant, transparent, convenient, free.” There’s also another key aspect to consider – risk.
“The important thing is that we don’t fill our entire portfolio with those riskier bets.”
Product Manager at Google
Wise included startup ideas as only a part of their services. This approach allows businesses to explore new ideas while simultaneously profiting from well-established products. (Source: “Building Efficient Fintech Products” interview)
Choosing the right type of product validation
There isn't one right way to run the idea validation process. You can conduct the phase in various ways. Krystian Bergmann, Senior Product Manager at Netguru, explains two process types.
“In the validation process, I most often use two approaches. The first is a classic "double diamond" ... The second preferred approach is the lean startup approach.”
Senior Product Manager at Netguru
The classic idea validation process is based on multiple, cheap prototypes and “allows you to recognize the user's needs and focus in-depth on the values provided by the solution”. However, it requires extra resources (such as time) and creates waste.
The second type of validation relies on quick target market assessment and “allows you to instantly verify the real business impact of the product and achieve the time to market”. Though assumptions are verified from the get-go, changes have to be implemented iteratively during the process.
To achieve the best results, it's a great idea to match the type of validation process adequately to each project dynamic.
Having a coherent plan with objectives
NASA also shares how they conduct the idea validation process, so let's look at the essence of the agency's complex procedures.
“There are five major steps in the validation process: (1) preparing to conduct validation, (2) conduct planned validation (perform validation), (3) analyze validation results, (4) prepare a validation report, and (5) capture the validation work products.”
The agency approaches the idea validation process with a clear framework of expected results. Their first aim is for a product to "fulfill its intended use when operated in its intended environment". Then, they consider a human aspect by checking the UX and UI design effectiveness, and also by ensuring the safety of the product. Lastly, NASA makes sure they solve all problems discovered during testing before they launch the final product. (Source: NASA System Engineering Handbook)
Making it inexpensive and straightforward
Martin Luenendonk, Co-founder of FounderJar, underlines that product validation can be both cheap and simple.
“To find your product-market fit, you have to answer three questions: Can it be built? ... Should it be built? Will people be able to use it?"
Co-founder of FounderJar
Then, the goal is to answer the above questions in the most efficient and inexpensive way. (Source: altexsoft article)
Evaluating existing market competition
Learning from others' critical mistakes is certainly safer – and more profitable – for inventors. According to Nimi Kular, researching current solutions and market competition gives a bigger picture of the actual state of the market you want to join.
“One way to make sure there is a healthy market to sell to is to look closely at your direct competition. Find out what they are doing and how it compares to what you are planning to do.”
Senior Product Marketing Manager at Shopify
Answering questions such as “How long have others been in the service?” and “Are my competitors successful or have they experienced massive financial losses?” gives a rough insight into how far your product can get. (Source: Shopify article)
Making it (an interdisciplinary) teamwork
An excellent product validation requires insight from diverse specialists. By engaging multiple departments at the early stage of the idea validation process, it’s possible to avoid the development of faulty business ideas. Adrian Pica presents the journey a product has to go through at Bolt before it’s actually launched.
“The Product Manager has a discussion with the team and puts together a list of potential ideas. We all look at the merit of the ideas, the data, the potential uplift that a new feature might bring, and then speak with the engineering team.”
VP of Product Management at Bolt
Even when the company accepts a new product, it doesn’t go straight into the production phase. Instead, it makes its way to the company’s to-do list according to priority. (Source: “How Successful Product Management Is Helping Bolt Scale” interview)
Checking the real value proposition
For Jim Semick, Founder of ProductPlan, a product isn’t about the features but its real value proposition – what potential customers are really gaining from it.
"By thoroughly understanding and documenting this qualitative value through customer interviews, you can set your product apart from the competition."
Founder of ProductPlan
You can measure the value in various categories, such as money savings or health benefits. Prospective customer feedback is one way to check the product's real value proposition. (Source: ProductPlan article)
Focusing on problems over solutions
Although it may seem less exciting, shifting focus from problems to solutions is beneficial in the long run. Benjamin Schmitt, VP of the Product at Dwolla, explains that their team is highly oriented toward customers' pains. They gather accurate information through customer validation interviews or support teams and then work with the gathered feedback and data.
How do they know which problems are a priority? Benjamin admits that’s the tricky part. Dwolla uses an internal tool to create rankings of problems. Next, they align problems with themes, and after some discussion, they create the roadmap.
“Our roadmap is theme-driven, and then aligned with the theme, we'll look at what are the best bets we want to place.”
Vice President of Product at Dwolla
(Source: How Dwolla’s API is Changing the Way Businesses Manage Payments interview)
Judging the root of a problem
Customer feedback is crucial, but so is checking its accuracy, says Helen Björk. Prospective customer pain points can have many causes, and solving them may be out of the company's reach.
"Because some of that feedback, especially around usability or product, might not be fixed, studies say there are many reasons why they're experiencing that problem"
Product Manager at Northmill Bank
Then, Northmill Bank combines users' opinions together with competitors’ approaches toward similar issues. As a result, they decide whether there’s any action they can take to solve the problem. (Source: How to Build a Bank That Solves Real Customer Problems? interview)
Northmill Bank combines users' opinions together with competitors’ approaches toward similar issues. As a result, they decide whether there’s any action they can take to solve the problem. (Source: How to Build a Bank That Solves Real Customer Problems? interview)
Experimenting with tools
We can test each validation criterion with various sets of experiments, says Pedro Sousa, ex-Senior Product Manager at Netguru. Then, we use the results of experiments individually but also treat them as the basis for further trials.
"Customer interviews are often the starting point, and in the format of those interviews you can use ‘The Mom Test’ framework."
ex-Senior Product Manager at Netguru
There are many options here, from solutions trees and assumption mapping to learning cards. It's important to decide on the best tools to provide efficient results in each validation category.
The right approach to product idea validation
All practitioners of product development realize the importance of conducting the idea validation process, regardless of its complexity. We perform the process in many ways using criteria within product idea validation sprint services. It can take the form of answering a few questions or be a five-day sprint – the key is not skipping the phase.
A problems over solutions approach increases the chances of creating great products. Moreover, experts agree that entrepreneurs must research their target audience instead of building products based solely on their assumptions.
Customer validation and focusing on users' pain points play a major role in product validation. It’s also crucial to research existing solutions on the market and direct competitors to see if there’s still something to gain from the business area you want to join.
Product validation is an essential element of creating an executable and sustainable business model, making the most of investors’ money and reducing the risk of failure. And so, be sure to validate your business idea, increasing the chances of placing it in the 5% of successful launches.