Before you can effectively transition from potentially marketable business idea to actually profitable product, you must first test and validate your startup idea by collecting real-world feedback from actual consumers—otherwise, it’s simply impossible to determine with any certainty whether your idea responds to a true monetizable customer pain.

Thinking you have a good business idea is the first — and thrilling — step. Going out and getting market validation from your target market is the less-sexy twin cousin of building an app or other product.

Don’t just hop right into an MVP (minimum viable product), either.

In the spirit of The Lean Startup, here are 7 free (or nearly free) ways to test the validity of your startup idea before jumping into the market and launching your product. These are strategies you can use to test the response to your business idea — without actually having to launch a tangible product.

Not only will these tactics allow you to gain concrete insight into whether actual customers will view your product as an attractive solution to a problem or pain they need resolved but they will also cost you little-to-nothing to execute! Thus, before you start investing money and betting your future on an idea that has yet to be tested, use the following methods to dip your toes into the market in order to get input from your target audience and better prepare for your future launch. 

Note: before you embark on any of these strategies, make sure you:

7 ways to validate your product or startup idea using real-world feedback at little-to-no cost:

1. The $20 Starbucks Test

 This idea validation hack will help you get real, honest feedback from total strangers (and give you some early indicators about product market fit):

The hope is that the $20 Starbucks Test will allow you to gather a number of previously unrecognized criticisms/objections with which you’ll be able to then fine-tune your future product. It’s not as quantifiable as landing pages or other online tactics, but the real-world experience can be even more useful if harnessed correctly. 

product validation

2. The “Knock-On-The-Door” Approach

Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist Tony Hsieh recruited his first customers by directly emailing webmasters; he then sold his company for $265 million to Microsoft and founded the ultra successful Zappos. Noah Kagan, the founder of AppSumo, began using a similar direct contact approach; he too emphasizes the importance of dealing with people in person during the earliest days of your start-up.

The above-described Starbucks test is one way of meeting people face-to-face in order to generate real-world feedback on your idea.

Using the power of the Internet is a second method:

If your messages/emails are written properly and sent out in non-spammy ways then some of the recipients might become your future customers, with many of them offering to speak to you via online video chat or in person in order to give you additional feedback on your idea.

3. Polls and Surveys

As a continuation of the previous strategy, consider utilizing the power of online surveys in order to generate real market feedback about your idea.

There are many free and paid survey tools that you can use, including:

Keep the following basic rules in mind when writing and sending out surveys:

construct validity

 Polls and surveys can also help validate potential startup business models — such as freemium, advertising, or other monetization strategies. 

4. Send out a Test Ad Campaign and Measure the Results

Many advertising platforms offer new clients free credits to start using their services. Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, AdRoll, Twitter, etc., all maintain offers for free advertising credits between $50 and $150 for new accounts. Use Google to find the service most attractive to you, sign up for some free credits, and then follow these steps:

Aside from gathering data that will help you test whether your UVP sells well, the test ad campaign method will also allow you to determine which traffic channels work best for your UVP and where can you get the best return-on-investment (ROI) once you start marketing your actual product. This instant customer validation is crucial for making informed decisions as you grow your startup business.

5. Beta Promotion Sites and Startup Directories

Beta promotion sites like betali.st allow you to distribute your simple, pre-launch site amongst early adopters and then collect their sign-ups to participate in beta testing and customer feedback campaigns. Most of the submissions are free; with respect to betali.st in particular, there is a paid option that allows you to distribute your site even faster.

Follow these steps to launch your own beta promotion:

  1. Create a simple landing page presenting a unique value proposition (UVP) and a sign-up link (or even better, a real “pre-order” button that collects actual pre-orders for your future product) 
  2. Add your submissions using this list over at Quora
  3. Track the results and follow-up with people who respond to your campaign
  4. Visit websites like Reddit, Hacker News, or specific forums and online communities and ask for feedback. Do not attempt to promote or sell anything; just be humble and ask for some honest opinions from those who are interested in contributing and you’ll get some feedback.

debt validation

6. Meet-Ups and Events

One of the best ways to get out of the office building and talk to real-world people about your business idea is to strategically locate customers by focusing on specific meet-ups and events. An easy way to use this method to validate your startup idea is to search sites like meetup.com and eventbrite.com for meet-up groups and events relevant to your particular niche. This can be very beneficial as it allows you to find targeted communities of potential users for your future product.

When physically attending a meet-up or event, keep in mind that you’re there to engage: talk to people, ask questions, elicit feedback, and encourage others to be honest/upfront with their opinions. Again, don’t promote yourself in any kind of over-the-top, obvious, or annoying way. You always get better results by being real with people and asking for friendly feedback rather than aggressively pushing your idea or product.

Bonus tip: Get a bunch of double-sided business cards: one side with your contact details listed and the other with a special sign-up URL to your site. For instance, “Get 20% off on www.yoursite.com/20off”.

7. Earn Face-Time with Successful Entrepreneurs

Leverage your social and professional networks—call in favours, complete free work for others, offer to organize mutual introductions—such that you earn the privilege to meet with some of the most successful people you know (preferably one-on-one, if not then in a small group setting). If you’re unable to arrange a meeting on your own then politely ask friends and family for introductions.

Successful entrepreneurs are individuals constantly interacting with the market. Even though they might not be your actual customers, you will almost certainly learn a lot and acquire some great feedback from established professionals who have successfully completed the journey on which you’re now starting out. Thus, you should absolutely put the effort into politely and humbly trying to catch the ear of one or more founders with whom you could discuss your idea.

Remember: entrepreneurs love to help out other entrepreneurs, especially because there is a shared understanding and respect amongst self-driven professionals who recognize the importance of hard work and networking. If a successful entrepreneur sees potential in your idea then he/she may very well play a major role in helping you ultimately transition from idea to product—which, after all, is the entire point of the strategies outlined in this article!

That’s it — you have a game plan to start your own product validation process. Get out, talk about your business idea, and learn what you need to determine to take the next step of building an MVP and finding the right startup cofounder.

If you like this post then please consider sharing it with others who might also find it helpful! Thanks!

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