Updated: Mar 22, 2020
Validation is hard.
Founders are deeply passionate about their startups, and many innovations are inspired by personal pain points. Which is why it's easy to believe that your idea is great, because you believe you are the target customer for your own product. It reminds me of the saying from the old Hair Club commercials, "...I'm not only the President, I'm a client". While that may have worked for Hair Club, I think most entrepreneurs are guilty of breaking Rule No. 4, "..never get high off your own supply".
"Entrepreneurs innovate, customers validate."
Validation is possible.
Repeat after me, "Entrepreneurs innovate, customers validate." What this means is don't ask your customers what the right solution is, they'll likely just recommend what they already know. A few decades ago people would have told you to build a better typewriter and a faster horse, and we wouldn't have had laptops and cars.
The better approach is to find the problem and than test if it works and if anyone will pay for it, by designing small experiments that involve customers and provide feedback.
Validation happens outside the office.
As a founder you have to go out yourself in front of customers and test your ideas. Resist the urge to send an intern or outsource the job, this is important work and you must do it. It's the founders job to talk to customers, partners, be rejected, ignored and laughed at.
Validation 1, 2, 3.
1. Identify your customers and assumptions, there are many ways to do this, I recommend the Lean Canvas, which is a simple yet effective tool to help you flush out your idea.
2. Know your customer pain, this is the customer problem you are going to solve and ask, yourself:
Is the customer pain big enough (is this a significant pain, that customers will care about)
Is the customer pain wide enough (are enough people affected by this pain?)
If the answer is no to either, it may mean your customer pain is not worth solving. and if it is, it might not make you money.
Coffee Test: walk into a Starbucks, find a random person, tell them you are starting a startup and will buy them coffee if they answer a few questions.
Email: Find your target customers and send them emails directly.
Social Media: If you have a decent following this is a good place to ask for feedback.
Meetups: Use meetup.com, eventbrite.com or google.com to find relevant events in your area. Attend them, talk and ask people about your idea.
Quora & Reddit: These are my go to tools for quick feedback, the people on these sites tend to be open to provide feedback, just make sure you don't come across as an infomercial trying to sell your product, and be open to some open and raw feedback here.
Ideas that are not shared die, they don't improve, grow, become unicorns and most importantly they can't be validated.
*A note on sharing your idea:
No one wants to steal your idea. If you are worried that if you try to validate your idea, everyone will know what your amazing idea is and steal it, don't be! You are not alone, many of the early stage startups I talk live by the NDA and are in constant fear of losing there idea. This is complete nonsense, there is no magic wand that lets someone else take your idea and make it a reality before you. Ideas that are not shared die, they don't improve, grow, become unicorns and most importantly they can't be validated.