Three effective ways to validate your startup idea before you build

Microsoft for Startups

Many startup founders talk openly about the aha moment that led to launching their companies, but it's not often you hear about the immediate next step – idea validation. While it's tempting to jump right into building a product once inspiration strikes, early idea validation can save you time, money, and stress while ultimately leading to smoother product development when you are ready.

We chatted with a handful of experienced founders on the best ways to validate an idea before betting the bank on it. Here are three strategies they all agreed on:

1. Identify a real problem your idea solves

The first critical step in validating your idea is questioning whether or not it solves a real, wide-spread problem.

Nadim Habr, founder of Designhubz, a web-based 3D try-on augmented reality product for e-commerce, knew he'd stumbled upon a viable product idea when he had a tough time collaborating with an architect he was working with to build a new office.

"The 2D images the architect was using were not enough," said Habr. "I knew that a 3D engine that visualized the space and could be used on any browser across any device would lead to better collaboration in real estate."

Remember though, even if you have a great idea, don't assume you fully understand the problem your product will solve for all customers. Habr said it's important to look deeply at the solution you want to build from your target customer's point of view and fully immerse yourself in how it would help them. By taking this empathetic approach, Habr realized that the problem he wanted to solve wasn't concerning to most real estate customers. Read more about Habr's journey to unlocking his target customer here.

2. Test your idea within your network

The fastest and easiest way to help validate your idea is to tap into your existing network of co-workers, friends, and mentors.

Habr had a large network of people in his initial target market. "I spoke to at least 15 to 20 people in real estate. I asked a lot of questions and got their feedback from the very beginning," he said. "And this feedback eventually helped us in our decision to pivot from real estate to e-commerce."

Talking to your existing professional network about an early idea might seem risky, but Ryan Lee, CEO of machine-learning startup Kurvv, proved that tapping into current colleagues can change the course of your startup journey.

While still working at Microsoft, Lee leveraged his broad network of coworkers to help him find potential customers to validate his idea for a plug-and-play predictive maintenance product. "I would talk to these connections, and they would wind up being a combination of an introductory customer discovery interview and an early sales opportunity," says Lee. "The effect was exponential too. We would speak to one potential customer through our internal networks and then when that person found value in the conversation, they would introduce us to more people."

3. Prepare yourself through self-education and learning

While you certainly don't have to be an expert in a particular field to have a great product idea, knowing the core features you need to validate early-on does require an understanding of both the technology and the industry you're targeting. Both of which you can gather through online courses, events, or even a job change.

For Fidel Ion, founder of SWEN, a platform aimed at democratizing the news, gaining professional experience in both journalism and tech was crucial before he could build the platform he envisioned.

"I came up with the idea for SWEN at 17, so I had no clue how to validate or build a tech product. Instead, I took jobs in journalism and tech, which led to me to organically having the skills and understanding to narrow down the problem I wanted to solve and how to tackle it," says Ion. "There are bits and pieces of the original idea in SWEN today, but the idea only really took shape after my professional experience as a journalist."

Ready to dive deeper into idea validation? Read more about how to build customer personas and why they are crucial for product road mapping.