StartupSOS banner
≡ Menu

Test your Product-Market Fit Hypotheses

How do you Know the Need is Compelling?

What you believe is a need is really a hypothesis.  How do you know that the need you are addressing is real and is compelling?  Don’t assume that because it makes sense to you, it will make sense to your target customers.  You need to go test the market.  You can’t get this kind of data out of market research reports (“secondary research”).  You need to do some primary research.  In other words, talk to customers.

You need to find out if you will get an “emphatic yes” from customers – or not.

Talk to your Customers

Talk to at least 20 people who you believe are prospective users.  It’s best to do face-to-face interviews, because you learn a lot more face to face. The goal: verify that they have the need, the need is compelling, and they would be willing to pay money to fill the need!

And remember: at this stage, you are not asking them about your solution.  You’re asking them whether they even have a need for a solution.

Do not do a structured “fill in the blank” survey.  It’s an interactive probing 30 minute interview.  Why an interview?  Because at the beginning, you need to assume that you don’t know what questions to ask.  You’re trying to figure out how the customer thinks about the need.  You’re really trying to get inside the customer’s head!

Interview Outline

An interactive, probing interview might be structured like this:

  • Introduce yourself and explain that you’re working on a startup idea – but before you implement it you want to be sure that the need you think exists is real and compelling.
  • Describe what you believe the need is – and then start to ask probing questions, like:
    • Is this a need you have?
    • Is this a compelling need?  If so – why?  Why is this a big deal?
    • What are you doing to meet this need today?
    • Are you actively looking for a solution?
    • What solutions have you tried?  What was good (and not good) about the solutions you tried?
    • Can you describe what an acceptable solution would look like?
    • If there were an acceptable solution available at what you thought was a reasonable price, would you seriously consider buying it?
    • So this is a need – how do you find out about this kind of product?  Referrals from friends? Blogs? Google? YouTube? Conferences?  Magazines?  Where?
    • If you have tried some solutions you aren’t happy with – how did you buy them?  Online? Catalog? At a conference? Retail store? …?

Don’t stop there!  Listen to what the customer says – and ask follow up questions.  You’re really trying to understand how they think about the need, and why the need is compelling.

Take Notes!

You’ll be talking to a lot of customers and you need to keep track of what you hear and what you learn.  Take notes at each customer interview.  After the interview, review your notes and record what you learned, including what hypotheses you confirmed and what hypotheses you disproved.

Listen to the Customer’s Words

Customers may well describe the unmet need (the “job”) in different words than you use.  Take not of that!  Later – when it comes to formulating marketing messages – you’ll want to communicate in the customer’s language, not your language.  So listen and learn!

Test your Channel Hypotheses too

Your Channel hypotheses should talk about how you’ll market (create awareness) and sell.  So you should ask the customers!  How do they hear about and research solutions in this area?  How have they bought solutions in this area?  How would they like to buy?

Ask about the Need First – Not the Solution

Do you “need” interviews first –  don’t talk about your solution.  Once you introduce a solution, the customer will focus on the solution, and you’ll learn less about the actual need.  You’ll learn more if you first talk about the need without introducing your solution.

After you talk to 20 customers you’ll likely understand the need a lot better.  (And we bet that your vision of the solution will have changed along the way.)

When you really believe you understand the customers’ perspective on the unmet need, you’re finally ready to have another series of interviews to talk about your solution.  Remember: you believe that the solution you envision is something the customers will agree meets the unmet need.  That’s another hypothesis!   You need to test that hypothesis too!  Like the “need” interview, this is best done with face-to-face probing interviews so you can get feedback and ask questions about what they think works – and what doesn’t work – in your vision of the solution.