How to validate your product idea for free (almost)?

So many entrepreneurs go all-in with an idea they thought would work, but unfortunately, ends up being a huge bust in the market. After putting so much time and money into their idea, they feel defeated.

Validating the demand for your product is more important than ANYTHING. More important than the features, your team, the design, the pricing – everything. Without market validation, you’ll have a product that no one will pay for. Or even worse – no one will be willing to use it even for free.  You’ll burn a lot of time, energy and cash and you’ll end up stressed, probably depressed and definitely burned out. And that hurts.

You don’t have to go into business blindly. In fact, the most successful entrepreneurs never do.

Let’s say you know what you want to build, what assumptions you need to test, what outcome you want to see out of the MVP test. But how do you actually test it? You need what’s called ‘validated learning’. Your potential customers/users to be in real life situations where they don’t know they’re being tested and see how they actually behave. That’s the data we crave and the only data that you can rely on. The extent to which you want to ‘fake’ your product’s existence will determine the type of MVP you need.


1. Email MVP

The simplest method, involves engaging with the content, emailing a pitch on the new feature/product and simulating “this is real” scenario. As an established company, you already have an email list of your client that you probably communicate with on a daily basis. Early founders, that don’t have an email list ready, can gather a list of emails from potential customers. I.e. people that fit your target demographics, or your target customer segmentation. Send emails using a personal tone to avoid getting flagged as spam. Appsumo sell new products all the time this way. They’re like deals website but for marketing and entrepreneurial tools. They routinely test new products by sending out email MVPs “This is real, come sign up”. Sometimes they put an “Order” button right in the email and check if people actually buy it right from the email.


2. Shadow Button Minimum Viable Product

 Generally, requires more resources to do compared to Email MVP, but still easy to do. Instead of building a new feature, they’d put a button in their already made product that supposedly links the person to the new feature. If the person clicks on that link, it registers that they did it and it either a) looks broken and does nothing, or b) shows text saying “sorry this is coming soon”. People don’t know if it’s real so when we observe their behavior in this scenario, we can generally consider it valid.

People act in an entirely different way when they think something is real versus if they don’t have any reason to this it’s not real. 


3. 404 page/coming soon page

Act like you’re adding a new feature or a product. When a user navigates to a page of a new product or section of your site, it either displays a 404 message or “Thank you for your interest – the product is coming soon”. Often times it’ll ask visitors to sign up or display an interest somewhere. Amazon uses this technique to test demand for new products.They track users’ interest against their criteria of success. Oculus Rift is another example – when they started selling it, they only had a very rough prototype, and interested people were able topay for it in advance on the crowdfunding platform.



4. Concierge MVP

A service where you get one-on-one support from someone who manually walks you through some task. Instead of building a feature/product, you can launch an informal offering to a small subset of (potential) users. Tell your users that you’re planning out a new thing. Then you can manually help them accomplish the task your proposed feature or product would do. See if they like the feature and see if they ask for more and see what exactly they plan to use the service for. That tells you what to focus on and what areas to prioritize when you launch.


5. Piecemeal Minimum Viable Product

Instead of building out your product, you take what’s available out there in the form of out of the box software and by piecing that software together you can match the functionality you need to test the basic version of what you are trying to build. There are plenty of platforms available and that’s why it works. WeeblyWix, to create forms that can do advanced calculations FormstackTypeformJotForm. To send text messages you can use Twilio. To manage subscriptions you can use Recurly – just to name a few. With some creativity, you can take these things and stick them together into one piece that gets the job done and then you can justify using the real resources.

A great example of Piecemeal MVP is Groupon – they bomb inboxes with flash deals. They didn’t want to build a complex system to take orders, manage their clientele, the actual stores and generate the coupons, so they instead created their site on WordPress (this is back when they were called The Point). The WordPress site then would email every time there was an order and then they would use Apple Mail. A thing called Apple Script so when they receive an email, it could just run some basic logic on it and generate a coupon that would then automatically send back to the person who needed it.


6. The Wizzard of OZ MVP

These are MVPs that from the front look to completely made but all the tasks that computers and automated systems would normally be doing. It’s actually carried out manually behind the scenes by an individual. It’s just a fact of engineering when you build a web or mobile product. The largest portion of your effort will be dedicated to making the server side logic. I.e. the parts of the site that make it work but no one ever physically sees. The classic example is Zappos – they created an online shoe store but they didn’t stock any shoes. When people ordered through the online store, they walked across the street and bought it from the actual Brick and Mortar store and then posted it. They didn’t have to build any server side logic. They didn’t have to buy any inventory.  But they pretty much offered everything people down the street offered.



Thanks, Evan Kimbrell for sharing some awesome tips.

Posted by Egle Tumenaite

Co-Founder, Corner Case Technologies