How and Why You Should Validate Your App Idea Before You Build

Validation is one of the most important steps in app development. It’s not just about finding an idea that people want, it’s also about ensuring you’re building something that can succeed.

The validation for mobile applications is the process of testing an app idea to make sure it’s worth building. There are many reasons why you should validate your app idea before you build.

Designing an app; idea validation for app conceptAlmost every week, I meet new ambitious entrepreneurs eager to put their ideas into action.

Some people think that when it comes to product development, you should go all-in and create a high-end app. They’ll hit it big if it works, and if it doesn’t, they’ll tweak it and try again. Others advocate a start-small, grow-big strategy: create a tiny version of the app, evaluate user demand, and then scale it.

In all instances, the app seems to be the only source of startup venture initiation and concept validation.

Here are some of the things I learnt after releasing my first app, Recycle Spotter:

1. It is possible to validate a concept at an early stage without having to develop an application. Existing, low-tech resources may be used to mimic user experience.

2. Before putting up a product, an entrepreneur may statistically evaluate prospective customers’ true intents and acquire a true knowledge of their requirements (app).

3. Survey answers should not be regarded as conclusive evidence of a prospective buyer’s issues, requirements, plans, or personalities.

Entrepreneurs should do the following to evaluate the feasibility of an app or business concept without having to build out the whole solution:

  • Monitor prospective customers’ willingness to pay for a beta version to determine their true purchasing intentions.
  • Before investing in a scaled version of the app, simulate the solution (app) by combining resources to serve customers fast and collect feedback.

For example, to build a Facebook ride-sharing page that connects passengers with drivers on demand, you might simply invite users to submit their trip requests and then privately communicate with drivers to mimic an Uber-like experience. Through one-on-one interviews and brief surveys, this non-scalable method to Uber’s sharing economy model is adequate to evaluate customers’ interest while learning about their requirements and expectations.

I had a concept for an app called Recycler Spotter when I was a junior in college in 2012, a platform that rewarded users for their eco-friendly activities. I wanted to utilize gamification to raise environmental awareness and encourage people to recycle more. It operated by incentivizing app users to recycle, which rewarded them points that could be used for local business discounts. The app’s intended audience was recyclers, but the recycling and incentive redemption process required collaboration with recycling facilities, local businesses, and government organizations. Those partners pay for a Recycler Spotter membership.

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For partners that joined the platform, there were two major benefits: their brand was linked with an environmentally responsible firm, and their visibility to college students and homes in the area helped grow their companies.

During my early consumer outreach and research stages, I personally met with over 600 prospective partners (not through phone, social media, or a landing page) (recycling centers and local businesses). Out of those 600, 256 agreed to be connected with Recycler Spotter for recycling (recycling facilities) and giving out incentives to our customers (restaurants, coffee shops, ecommerce businesses, and so on). By the way, it was a fantastic conversion rate for a basic survey-based study for Recycler Spotter’s first free membership version.

Spending tens of thousands of dollars to develop a scalable and robust application was out of the question for me as a student with limited funds. Launching Recycler Spotter at the time was entirely based on spending the least amount of money while accomplishing the most.

The goal was to offer a very rudimentary version of the Recycler Spotter software to those 256 joiners, in accordance with my financial constraints. Like a basic directory page, the beta app would offer a list of recycling facilities and nearby companies. On the back end, my team would handle the point tracking and documentation system manually. In other words, customers would email us a photo of their recycling receipt, and we’d use an Excel sheet to update their Recycle Spotter profile. We’d then give them a weekly account overview and invite them to contact us if they wanted to redeem their points. It wasn’t a long-term fix, but it was a start.

I then sent out a poll to those 256 partners approximately two weeks before the launch. Around 150 people expressed interest in the app’s premium edition, which would add capabilities that were not yet available. Premium was chosen by 60% of respondents! I was hoping for a 10% to 20% increase at most. I never expected the majority of partners to choose premium since none of them had utilized or seen the platform in action. Later, I discovered that the majority of individuals who chose premium did so as a result of the personal connection I had developed with them.

The issue was that implementing all of the premium features would take four to six months and thousands of dollars in app development, which I lacked. However, when I did the calculations, I discovered that the income from the 150 people who were interested in premium would pay the cost and more in the first three months. Because I didn’t have the funds to invest in the premium features, I decided to prolong development to eight months in order to take advantage of modest payments from a school scholarship. I decided to hold off on releasing both the free and premium versions until the premium app was finished.

I developed the premium version, published it, and contacted individuals who expressed an interest in it. What’s more, guess what? Only three of them went on and purchased the premium edition. What happened to the remainder of the group?

What I’ve learnt as a result of those encounters

I approached them again and inquired. This is what I learnt both indirectly and explicitly from my conversations with the majority of people who chose premium (about 100 respondents):

Many individuals were pleasant.

In reality, the vast majority of individuals are pleasant. They agreed to be interviewed by a stranger and discussed how they would spread the word to their acquaintances. The issue is that you can’t make a company out of being kind.

The greatest entrepreneurs are able to discern the true objectives of interviewers. However, I neglected to ask open-ended questions that would have elicited information other than the responses I had induced. I also neglected to request an upfront commitment, such as signing a contract or paying a modest deposit in return for a future discount. This might have confirmed their interest and given me concrete evidence of demand. Indeed, following our conversation, I remember hearing a lot of excitement from the owner of a recycling facility, whom I encouraged to commit to Recycler Spotter. He eventually said that he would prefer to wait. Paying attention to tiny signals like these is one of the things I’ve learnt.

It’s difficult to envision product functioning.

Buyers aren’t able to make informed choices until they see the app for themselves, no matter how clear the description or how excellent our design ideas seem. To put it another way, adding a list of characteristics in a survey may be useful, but it isn’t practical. This aspect complicates the pre-product assessment process.

Big issues and pressing demands, on the other hand, are always worth betting on. Companies would have committed regardless of product stage or quality if Recycler Spotter had solved an intolerable issue. As a result, one method to see how urgently an idea is needed is to see how eager prospective customers are to commit to it before it is launched. Despite the fact that Recycler Spotter was seen to be an excellent model for boosting awareness and sales, most partners opted to hold off until the product was released. The perceived benefit of Recycler Spotter to partners was insufficient to warrant an early commitment.

Priorities change throughout time.

Priorities may shift dramatically from day to day, much alone over the course of eight months. Maintaining momentum requires regular follow-ups and minor product revisions. I observed a drop in response rate when I followed up with prospective users on a regular basis. The lesson I took away from this is that continuous follow-up does not alter purchasers’ priorities.

People are looking for social evidence.

The majority of individuals who expressed an interest in premium were seeking social proof. They wanted to be sure they’d be paying for a tried and true solution. They were looking for customer evaluations, social connections, and referrals. As I was developing a scalable solution, I could have used the free, manually managed version to validate the idea and rapidly collect feedback and evaluations.

Furthermore, since I was demonstrating the feasibility of Recycler Spotter via the free version, I could have pre-sold the premium membership at a discount for an additional layer of validation and to help fund product development. It wasn’t until I provided evidence that customers of the free version began upgrading.

The reality is that what occurred in my situation had almost nothing to do with the platform’s premium features. Without spending time and money creating a list of features that virtually no one utilized, I could have obtained the same responses, emotions, and facial expressions. Although I eventually grew Recycler Spotter to hundreds of users and many paid partners before moving on to another venture, many of the costly mistakes I made early on could have been easily avoided had I simply asked and leveraged existing tools, continuing on the same path as when money was tight.

The method that makes sense is testing.

A startup’s success is determined by the value it delivers to its stakeholders. Market validation and expansion potential are at the heart of such value.

In other words, if the suggested solution lacks evidence of adoption, the enterprise will benefit neither the client, the creator, the co-founders, nor the investors. Instead than acquiring assets (money and people) from the start, expecting that the investment would pay off later, we should concentrate on proving the solution’s feasibility first.

We concentrate on what counts most: verifying the concept, by testing prospective users’ intents and behavior by asking for modest commitments, then obtaining another layer of validation via prototypes and rapid product revisions. Validating first can really assist you in attracting the finest personnel and obtaining financing sooner.

The second step is for us to get our hands filthy. Whatever the concept, there is always a method to service consumers manually behind the scenes or by re-engineering current tools to provide the closest experience to our eventual scalable solution.

Groupon, the second-fastest startup to ever achieve a billion-dollar value, developed an Excel spreadsheet containing a list of companies interested in selling discounts using a WordPress site. On-demand, they personally paired customers with these companies. There is no application or sophisticated technology.

Doordash, a food delivery service, began in the same manner. After surveying over 150 local companies, they discovered that delivery is the greatest issue they encounter. Their concept of assisting local companies with delivery outsourcing required some testing. So they built a landing page with a phone number and menus for nearby establishments in an afternoon, emailed everyone on their email list, and handed out fliers at school.

The Doordash staff received the initial contact and placed the order that same day. They needed to find a better method as more people began ordering over the following week, so they utilized the iPhone’s Find My Friend app to identify drivers and dispatch orders based on their location, Square to take payment, a spreadsheet to manage the orders, and their own vehicles to deliver.

I was on the correct road, trying to rapidly deploy the first simulated version of Recycle Spotter before developing a scalable service, even though I had never heard of Doordash or Groupon before. I didn’t decide to invest in a fancy app until I released the final survey and saw that the majority of prospective customers are interested in the premium version. It was a 180-degree turn.

This is what it means to get your hands dirty: we can go to market without an app, learn more about their behavior, and learn how the code or algorithm should appear when we’re ready to create by providing the client non-scalably. It’s a strategy for reducing risk, lowering initial investment, and getting into the market sooner. When I delayed the launch of Recycler Spotter in order to build out a more sophisticated software, I discovered that most of the premium features were nice to have but not necessary to solve the solution’s fundamental problem: increasing recycling rates.

The validate-first strategy isn’t only for software companies; modest businesses may benefit from it as well. For example, instead of leasing a shop and purchasing costly equipment and supplies, I might send 300 flyers to nearby companies that may be interested in my services and locate a secondhand printer. But first, it’s a good idea to pre-sell printing services at a discount to gauge client interest, with a two-week notice period to take advantage of the discount. If they call, I collect the checks, use the money to buy the printer, service clients from home, then reinvest the profits to buy better printers and open a storefront in town.

Above all, we all have great ambitions, but success is not something that can be cheated. In the corporate world, “overnight success” takes years. Setting smaller, attainable goals will make it easier for you to cross some milestones off your list as you focus on building the best small-scale app (or startup) you can, but more importantly, in this highly competitive business world, it will allow you to celebrate the smaller achievements, gain confidence, grow stronger, and persevere longer.

As Steve Jobs put it, “I’m persuaded that roughly half of what distinguishes great entrepreneurs from unsuccessful entrepreneurs is sheer persistence.”

Would you want to learn more about validating your business idea?

Check out the resources below for additional information on how to evaluate whether or not your company concept is a solid one, including the free Bplans business idea validation checklist download.

The how to find out if an app already exists is a question that many developers are asked. There are two ways to find out if an app already exists, the first being through Google searches and the second being through the App Store.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I validate my app idea?

The best way to validate your app idea is to conduct market research and see what other apps are already out there that have a similar idea.

Why should I validate my idea?

Validation is a process that helps you make sure your idea can be implemented. It also helps potential investors and partners know what you are working on.

How do you validate a start up idea?

There are many ways to validate a start up idea, but one of the best methods is to test it out with friends and family. This will give you an indication on whether or not your idea has potential.

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