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You Validated Your Startup Idea With Customers, Right?

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In our work with aspiring and early tech entrepreneurs we see that almost all founders know that they should be talking to customers in order to validate their idea before spending significant time and money on it. The good news is that most founders actually do talk to customers. The bad news is that in the majority of cases startups still end up building stuff nobody needs or wants. Isn’t that exactly what talking to customers is supposed to prevent? Of course it is, but only if you do it right. In this article we will share some of the typical mistakes that we see founders making when talking to customers in order to validate their startup ideas. Let’s go!

Mistake #1: Asking whether your startup idea is a good one

The number one mistake startup founders make in their customer validation conversations happens when they literally share their startup idea and ask whether it is a good one. The problem with this approach is that when you share your idea with people, they will most probably lie to you even when they don’t intend to. Why? Because typically they don’t want to hurt your feelings - it is your idea that you shared and often they will start complimenting you about it. Even if they honestly share their opinion, it is just an opinion. Only the market can tell if your idea is good. Unless you’re talking to a deep industry expert, this is self-indulgent noise with a high risk of false positives.

Mistake #2: Considering compliments as validation proof

Most of the time your validation conversations with customers will end with a compliment and honestly - it feels good to hear they like what you shared with them in the conversation. Compliments are not validation. Even if customers really do like it, that data is still worthless. You want facts and commitments, not compliments. Treat compliments as bad data, because they are.

Mistake #3: Asking questions that lead to a specific answer

Another typical mistake is to ask questions in a way that leads the interviewee to specific answers and practically puts the answers in their mouth. E.g. “We believe X, but what do you think?” Or even more common “Do you like X?” Instead, you should be asking open-ended, neutral questions as you don’t want to skew the customer in any specific direction. Instead ask “What is your view about X?

Mistake #4: Just can’t stop talking

The excitement and passion about their idea are key characteristics of good entrepreneurs. Some entrepreneurs just can’t help themselves - they always have to pitch and seem obsessed with their views. When you talk with customers to validate your ideas you should be obsessed with them and their life. It is not about you, it is about them. This means that you should talk less and listen more.

Mistake #5: Hearing what they want to hear

Some entrepreneurs go into interviews with very strong opinions and beliefs about what the ultimate truth is. Coming back from a customer validation conversation it is fascinating how everything they heard matches perfectly with their opinions. If you never hear anything different from what you already believe then most probably you hear what you want to hear. That’s why it is critical to clarify what are the underlying assumptions of your beliefs and treat them as what they are - they are assumptions and not facts. And the whole point of validation is to turn these assumptions into facts.

One More Thing

At Icanpreneur we believe that the #1 reason startups fail 9 out of 10 times is simply because the typical entrepreneurial path is chaotic and is based primarily on gut feeling and luck. The above-mentioned typical mistakes are a direct result of that. We believe that entrepreneurs should use their intuition and gut feeling to imagine the vision of the intended impact of their startup instead of discovering what the entrepreneurship steps are. This is where we can help - at Icanpreneur we are focused on building the guided journey that helps aspiring and early entrepreneurs systematically go from idea, through investment, to product/market fit. Become part of the change now.

Vesko Kolev
Founder & CEO of icanpreneur. Passionate about connecting people with their purpose of becoming successful entrepreneurs.