After identifying the riskiest assumptions about your startup solution, it’s time to validate it with real people. But, what validation methods can you use?
In this post, I’ll present you 5 well-known validation methods: wireframes, mockups, prototypes, landing pages and MVPs.
Wireframe is a very simple, sketchy representation of your solution. Its main focus is to present your solution flow and check if it resonates with your potential customers’ needs.
For its simplicity, wireframes are a fast and cheap way of presenting the basic logic behind your solution.
First tangible stage of the UX design process and low-fidelity wireframes in particular are perfect for validating early stage ideas and concepts.Robert Smith, Validating product design ideas with low-fidelity wireframes
For instance, to understand how a button will play a video in your app, customers don’t need a perfect button nor a real picture of the video. A sketchy button and an image placeholder will be enough for them to give you initial feedback.
On one hand, wireframes are great for gathering insights from your customers sooner. On the other hand, if you need to validate customers feedback on the visual, usage or real value of your solution, wireframes won’t be enough.
Suggested tool: Balsamiq.
Mockup is a static visual representation of your solution. It helps you on getting feedback about the visual, as well as on logic of your product flow. In other words, mockups are screens of your app or nice illustrations of your product.
Despite they still don’t allow your customers to interact with your solution, mockups provide a more realistic visual about your product than wireframes. That’s why mockups resonate better when your intention is to gather feedback about your solution visual appeal too.
However, better visuals for your screens will demand you more time to develop mockups of your product than wireframes (that don’t require a visually awesome interface at all).
A real case on the use of mockups for validation comes from my interview with Ned Phillips, co-founder of Bambu.
Below, you see 3 real mockups used by Bambu to validate its solution with its customers:
They look a real app, don’t they?
But, let’s see what Ned explained to me:
We created about six static screens of what a digital saving app would look like and we put on a PowerPoint. We’ve paid a few thousand dollars to do that. We mocked it up as a digital savings journey, you know: “How old are you?”, “What are your savings goals?”, “When do you want to retire?” Put some nice pretty colors around it. Put it in six slides and that was that. No coding, no tech, no stack, no nothing. Just a six-page PowerPoint.Ned Phillips, Bambu CEO – Episode 7
Suggested tools: Mockups can be easily presented in PowerPoint, Google Slides or Keynote. To build your screens images, there are also some services like InVision and Photoshop. You also can find some easy-to-use templates (free or paid) to have your screens ready to be presented (like this one).
A landing page is a website page that allows your potential customers to take some actions, so you can measure their interest about your solution.
Landing pages are great to reassess customers’ interest about the problem as well as their understanding and excitement about your solution.
The main objective behind a landing page is validating if your startup’s value proposition fits to your customer’s problem. Hence, the decision of what elements to include will depend on how well you can communicate your product’s value for your customers (e.g.: some landing pages don’t have screenshots, others do).
On one hand, a big plus of using a landing page is to capture potential customers emails. That’s why you must include an appealing Call-To-Action (CTA) button.
On the other hand, a big challenge is to get people coming for your website. Differently from wireframes and mockups, you’ll not be able to interact directly with most of the people who visit your landing page. So, it’s important to start defining how to get potential customers coming for your landing page.
Their low cost and no need to have a finished product make them awesome to test if customers would are interested in buying from you.
You can learn more about landing pages here:
Prototype is an interactive representation of your solution. It means that you’ll not only show it to your customers, but they’ll actually
“use” it (like they were using your solution).
The benefits of getting a prototype in the hands of your customers are huge. Through a prototype, you’ll understand how they interact with your product and what difficulties or doubts do they have while using it.
Despite your prototype would work like the solution, you still won’t deliver any real value to your customers yet. It’s not your product, but a vehicle to capture customers feedback on your products usage.
It’s important to notice that your prototype is an interactive tool, but it doesn’t mean you need everything coded or automatic yet. Actually, your mission is to simulate customers’ interactions with your product, without building the product for that.
Abolore Salami, founder of Riby told me how he used a prototype to validate the solution:
[…] we tried to get people to use it and see the kind of difficulty they had, see if it worked or not, and things like that, that was kind of research. […] It [the prototype] was always coded and you could interact with it. It allowed you to do two major things. Number one is to set a goal and number two is to save towards that goal. All what we were doing was monitoring how you were doing at your goal. You couldn’t process money for people as it was.Abolore Salami, founder of Riby – Episode #8
Suggested tool: InVision.
MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT (MVP)
Minimum Viable Product is a validation method that demand you to build something capable of delivering the essence of your value proposition to customers. Let’s see Steve Blank’s definition for it:
It’s a concise summary of the smallest possible group of features that will work as a stand-alone product while still solving at least the “core” problem and demonstrating the product’s value.Steve Blank, Bob Dorf – The Startup Owner’s Manual
In other words, MVP is the minimum set of features needed to deliver your core value for your customers to solve their problem as well as to allow you to test your most important assumptions.
I’ve produced this other post specifically about MVP.
How complex and expensive does your MVP need to be? It depends on what you define as “minimum”. And this is definitely the most challenging part of building an MVP.
After all, since the beginning, you were mentally visualizing what would be your ideal product (with a lot of features).
But, to build an MVP, you should consider it part as a product and part as a vehicle to validate your assumptions in a fast and cheap way.
Want to see an awesome example of that?
Bookme is a Pakistani online platform through which you can buy tickets for Cinema, Bus and Events. Today, the reservation and payment processes are automatic. But, Faizan (Bookme founder) was able to build a much leaner MVP:
It was merely a form where you could simply put in your request that you want to see a movie at ‘XYZ’ cinema or you want to book a seat from this city to that city. It was all manual, there was no integration of stuff at the back end and there was no option to select a real-time seat. It was like: tell us your preference, which seat you want and we will try to make it as close as possible.Faizan Aslam, founder of Bookme (Ep#13)
CHOOSING A VALIDATION METHOD
First, it’s important to mention that these are not the only methods to validate your solution (although they are really important ones).
Second, you don’t need to use one OR another. You can start with a simpler method and move to a more detailed method later in the validation process.
To define the best alternative in your case, I suggest you to compare them in terms of: resources, methods effectiveness and access to customers.
Each method will demand more or less of your startup’s resources. That’s why you should start by estimating how much money, time and effort each method will require to be executed.
Together with “Resources Needed” you’ll assess the resources you have. Do you have someone who can build a prototype? Great! Do you have someone who could build a landing page in one day? Awesome! Will you have to hire people to do any of those alternatives? Okay, take that into account too.
The selected method must resonate with the next assumptions to be tested (the riskiest ones). For example, if you need to test how much customers are willing to pay for your solution, wireframes wouldn’t be recommended (because customers won’t have a perfect sense of how exactly your solution brings them value.
Similarly, if you want to test market demand and gather users contact, landing page would be better than just presenting a few people the prototype.
ACCESS TO CUSTOMERS
A last factor you must consider is how easy and formal is your connection with those you want to test your solution with.
In other words, if you have close friends that are related to your solution’s topic, it wouldn’t be a problem to present them a wireframe.
However, if you’re presenting your solution for a potential customer who you need to trust you (like a big corporation), then you need something more polished (like mockups or a prototype).
No matter what validation method you choose, keep in mind these four elements of the validation process:
- Assumptions: What assumptions do you want to validate now?
- Method/assumptions fit: Is the validation method covering those assumptions?
- Results: How will you measure validation? What metrics will tell you your assumptions are valid or not?
- Action: One or more assumptions were not validated? Why? How should you restate them? Were they validated? Great! Go to the next set of assumptions or start planning scale.