What are you building? Who will want to use it? Why? Will they care about your startup? What makes you sure that you're not the only person interested in your solution?
How do you know that you're building the right solution to the problem your trying to solve? Furthermore, how do you know that you're even solving the right problem?
You don't know.
Unless you do proper Customer Discovery and find out.
Customer Discovery is part of the Lean Startup methodology, and encompasses a broad range of techniques to figure out if customers will actually want or care about the product that you're building. It will steer you to find the right problem to solve, and also allow you to test market desire before you build out the full solution.
The Customer Discovery process in a nutshell
Let's say that you want to build a startup that helps people in tech find a new job. Your startup isn't really helping them find a job, but more so helping them solve the problem that finding a job is a challenge. Customer discovery allows you to explore the problem to be solved, which shows you which angle to take as you build your solution.
You must interview potential users and have open and free flowing conversations about their problem. A multiple choice or yes/no survey won't accomplish this, as it's necessary to let the conversation flow on its own, which can show you additional problems and nuances that you could solve for the user.
In this example, perhaps you find that, after talking to a lot of potential users, most people looking for jobs struggle with finding the right person to speak to at the target company, and then have trouble keeping track of how often and when to follow up with those people. This could be a totally different solution that you originally wanted to solve, and by speaking to actual people, you learn that this new solution might be a lot more helpful to people, which would improve your chances of a successful startup.
By talking with a lot of potential customers, you either confirm that people want your solution, or learn another solution that would be popular. This prevents you from wasting time, money and energy in building something that people won't care about.
There are several ways to quickly validate a business idea before you actually build the business, and we'll go over some popular ones below.
It takes little time to set up Google or Facebook ads and point them at your target market with your offering and gauge interest by monitoring the click through rate.
The more people click on your ad, obviously the more they are interested in your offering. This is basic market validation.
A smoke test site:
This involves setting up a site quickly to see if people would be interested in the offering. It's nothing more than getting a site template, modifying it to talk about your service, and then setting up the "buy now" or "learn more" buttons to track whether people tried to click on them.
You could also use the site to gather email addresses of anyone who tried to order, so that if you do build out the service, you have some pre-launch traction already.
A MVP or concierge MVP:
A Minimum Viable Product is the most basic version of your solution. It's a no-frills version, put up quickly so that people can start using it, which allows you to not only gauge interest but also refine the service based on the initial users.
A concierge MVP is a working service but with no backend built out. This is also known as a "Wizard of Oz" MVP because you're the guy behind the curtain pulling the strings to make everything happen. Building a working backend can be a very expensive process, but with only a few users, you can probably manually do what will be later heavily automated. This way you can test the business idea before spending a ton.
While not often considered market validation, cold calling businesses and trying to sell them your service before you create it is a brilliant way to validate your idea, and to learn what all services they would want, what services they don't care about, and what they would be willing to pay. Are you thinking about starting a service that comes to an office weekly to shred their documents for them, so that they don't have to fool with it? Call 10 businesses and pitch them. If even one bites on the idea, you're onto something.
Customer Discovery is a vital process not only in the startup world, but also really with any business. It's also a way for existing businesses to validate a change in their offering. But ultimately it's a way to ensure that your business can not only survive, but thrive!