52 Battle-tested Ways to Validate Your Startup Business Idea 👩🏼‍🔬 (#TT01)

...and when to use them.

This post is the first part of an ongoing series about Startup Validation, called Testing Tuesdays.

It will be continuously updated over time.
What to expect? Additional experiments, (links to) in-depth tutorials, and tools that will help with analysing test results.

Be sure to check in every so often, or stay updated via email by subscribing below:


Brilliant Startup Ideas

If you are anything like me, you are hit with multiple brilliant business ideas each day. At least, that’s what I usually think at the time.

Whether you’re solo-preneuring, or running a corporate incubator – deciding which ideas to go all-in on can be dizzying. Especially when you are not the only person calling the shots.

It’s tempting to stay in the brainstorming headspace, where all ideas are good ideas. It’s comfortable. Which is why we can end up spending a lot more time there than is necessary.

So, I’ll let you in on two little secrets:

  1. Procrastination is the all-time biggest killer of startups.
    (And it is not even reflected in the failed startup stats.)

  2. Discussions don’t make for good design decisions. Experiments do.


Therefore I have compiled this list of 52 Battle-tested ways to Validate your Startup Business Idea.

With it, you can start making design decisions based on results – not on gut or consensus. And while gut is underrated, it takes a long time to develop. I’d rather stick to the experiments.


How to Use

The experiments below are grouped by their most relevant phase (though most can be used in multiple phases).

Naturally, you will have to determine which phase your current idea is in, using the 5 Levels of Validation:

  1. Problem: Is the problem you solve actually a problem for users?

  2. Solution: Does your business idea solve that problem for users?

  3. Commercial: Will people actually pay for your value proposition?

  4. Market: Does the market adopt your solution and continue to use it?

  5. Scale: Is your business scaleable in a predictable manner?

For each experiment, you will find:

  1. Description: A brief description…

  2. Type: Qualitative, Quantitative or Both.

  3. Speed: Scores the amount of time and effort that goes into execution of the method.

  4. Reliability: Scores the strength of the evidence in relation to the stage. A low score means it’s a low driver for decision-making.
    Disclaimer: scores can vary per stage, the average is reflected here

  5. Cost: How much can you expect to spend on the experiment.
    Personnel cost generally not included.

Without Further Ado…

You can access the interactive Database here (ctrl / cmd+click to open in new tab):

Access Now

OR you can read the text version below.

Additional experiments, links to in-depth tutorials, and tools will be added to both over time.


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The Experiment List


Problem-Fit


01: The Mom Test

Asking the opinion of your Mom.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 5/5
Reliability: 1/5


02: Keyword Research

Research search keyword volume and quality within your domain.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 4/5


03: Trendspotting

Observe mimetic user behaviours within the defined domain.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 3/5


04: Technological Developments

Explore technological developments in your domain.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 3/5


05: Stakeholder Mapping

Visually map all stakeholders in your ecosystem, along with their pains & needs.

Type: Both
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 3/5


06: Stakeholder Interviews

Interview individual stakeholders in your ecosystem to better understand their pains and needs.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


07: Value Chain Analysis

Break down the Value Chain on multiple levels: Stakeholders, Resources, Value, Time.

Type: Both
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 3/5


08: Expert Fly-In

Invite topical experts for a feedback session to evaluate opportunities, problems and ideas.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 5/5
Reliability: 4/5


09: Scoping Session

Invite decision-makers to align domain and scope of your project to strategy.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 2/5


Solution-Fit


10: A Day in the Life

Ask to tail a potential user for a day to better understand their Customer Journey and the challenges that arise in their life.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


11: Digital Ad Campaign

Run a digital ad campaign hooked up to the right analytical software.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


12: Customer Support

Go undercover in Customer Support for one or multiple days to discover customer's pains & needs.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 3/5


13: Painkiller or Vitamin?

Gut-check whether your solution solves a pain or is a vitamin.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 5/5
Reliability: 2/5


14: Digital Questionnaire

One-to-many questionnaire to potential target group in order to get feedback on problem, solution, and / or commercial value.

Type: Both
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 4/5


15: Boosted Blog Post

Write a blog post outlining a problem / solution and boosting it using a small amount of money to gauge repsonse.

Type: Both
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 3/5


16: E-mail Campaign

Run a targeted e-mail campaign to gauge problem- or solution-fit.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


17: Brochure

Physically hand out a flyer or brochure and observe / measure feedback.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 2/5


18: Deconstruction

Break down competing or failed businesses on all levels to learn and improve on problem-, solution- and commercial fit.

Type: Both
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 5/5


19: Fake Button

Create a non-functioning button in an existing product to test interest in a new feature.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 3/5


20: Mystery Shopping

Complete and record the buyer's journey for one or more competing offerings to learn, steal and improve your proposition on multiple levels.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 3/5


21: Paper Prototype

Use a paper mock-up to test your idea with actual users.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 3/5


22: Clickable Prototype

Use a digital mock-up to test your concept with actual users.

Type: Both
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


23: User Test Recording

Ask users to record themselves and provide voice-over whilst performing pre-defined tasks in a prototype.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 5/5


24: Landing Page

Build and launch a commercial single-page-website explaining your value proposition, and measure on-page user behaviour.

Type: Both
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 5/5


25: Explainer Video

Create a video or animation explaining your value proposition and show it to end-users to gauge interest, understandability, retention and /or reproduction.

Type: Both
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 2/5


26: Buy A Feature

Give users a limited amount of mock-currency to spend on a handful of features, to discover preference and priorities.

Type: Both
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 3/5


Commercial Fit


27: The Upvote

Launch your product on a curation platform s.a. Product Hunt and measure upvotes.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 3/5


28: Crowdfunding

Launch your product on a platform s.a. Kickstarter to measure intention-to-buy whilst leveraging the crowd to raise funding.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 1/5
Reliability: 5/5


29: Online Communities

Share your product idea (at any stage) within a target community s.a. Reddit to gauge feedback from your most niche audience.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


30: Pop-up Store

Shortly open a Point of Sale to measure user interest and feedback.

Type: Both
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 4/5


31: Technical Prototype

Use a functional, non-aesthetical prototype to test technical feasibility of your product.

Type: Both
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 4/5


32: Visual Prototype

Use a visual, physical, non-functioning prototype to gauge commercial interest in your product.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 3/5


33: Sales Force Test Run

Have your sales force pitch a proposition to potential customers as if it were already live and for sale.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 3/5


34: Interest List

Convince interested users to leave their e-mail addresses as a measure of commercial potential.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


35: Pre-Order

Allow users to pre-order your proposition at a discount, to gauge interest and commercial potential.

Type: Quantiative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 5/5


36: Smoke Test

Launch a website as if your product were already available for sale. See how many people try to buy.

Type: Both
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


37: Concierge

A form of MVP where on the user's side things seem automated whereas behind the scenes they are solved with manual labour.

Type: Both
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 5/5


38: Wizard of Oz

Test a prototype that gives the impression of a fully functional product, but actually has no code behind it.

Type: Both
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


39: No-Code MVP

Build a fully functional MVP using no-code tools. (To be clear, the MVP DOES run on code, but you don't have to do any of the coding).

Type: Both
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


40: Waiting List

Create a ranked waiting list for interested users to sign up using their e-mail addresses. Optionally gamify moving up in the list.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


41: Business Case

Build an in depth business case to learn the dynamics of your business, determine the Y1 startup cost, and the Y5+ revenue potential.

Type: Both
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


42: Letter of Intent

Convince potential B2B customers to sign a 'letter of intent' stating they will purchase your product as soon as it’s finished.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 3/5


Product-Market Fit


43: Viral Loops

Incentivise user behaviour that drives growth.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


44: Beta Launch

Launch a fully functional MVP in a controlled test group for testing + learning purposes.

Type: Both
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 5/5


45: The Gut Check

Use your gut to evaluate whether you have achieved product market fit. Most of the time, you'll know when you don't have it.

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 5/5
Reliability: 2/5


46: The Superhuman Engine

Use the P-M-Fit quantification engine pioneered by Superhuman to determine P-M-Fit. (Read More)

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 5/5


47: The Zombie Test

Is your company default alive or default dead? (by Paul Graham)

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 4/5


48: Net Promoter Score

Poll your user base for its promoters and detractors and calculate the NPS.

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 5/5


49: Cohort Retention Analysis

Measure the retention (%) of a cohort of new users over a longer period of time (1+ month).

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 4/5
Reliability: 4/5


50: Organic Growth Rate

Does organic growth + traffic account for ≥50% of new users?

Type: Quantitative
Speed: 3/5
Reliability: 4/5


Scalability


51: The Ghost CEO

Are you able to delegate all of your work in such a way that you are the CEO on paper, but actually others are doing your work? Does the business survive without your interference?

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 4/5


52: The McDonald’s Test

Is your process automated to the extent where it can be copy pasted effortlessly and with little-to-no ramp up?

Type: Qualitative
Speed: 2/5
Reliability: 5/5


Happy Testing! 👩🏼‍🔬


Resources:
In creating this article I was inspired by and have borrowed from better (wo)men s.a.:

  • PaulGraham.com

  • Superhuman.com

  • Strategyzer.com

  • WRKSHP.tools