App Business

How To Validate Your App Idea (For Starters)

Before you invest all the time, energy, and money into building an app, you better make sure that your idea is worth pursuing. In this article, I'll explain a few tactics to make sure the odds of success are in your favor.

How To Validate Your App Idea (For Starters)

Say you have an idea for an app and you like it. It may be tempting to just start out and see your idea come to life. However, just building an app and building a successful app business are two different things. Whereas one may be done on a weekend, the other is a long and arduous process that you must stick to for a long-enough time. If the latter is your goal, you better make sure that your idea is worth the pursuit. Hence, take the time to validate your app idea.

I know that "product validation" can seem fuzzy and intriguing. To me, there must be a fine balance between "having no plan yet just doing" things (easy) and over-complicating your planning and not getting going at all (worst case). In this article, I'll show you my tips and tricks to ensure you are prepared, not paralyzed.


    What Is Product Validation Anyway?

    At this early phase, you mainly need to answer one question: Is my idea worth pursuing?

    The answer requires knowledge (or rather educated guesses) of what you want to build, for whom, why, and how.

    In detail, you must know your target user and its desires, how your app can provide value to this group of users, if and how people are willing to pay for your app, and if your app's desired features can even be done.

    Product Validation Doesn't Have to Be a Huge Thing

    In my opinion, most (online) resources on validation make this phase seem very long and complicated, producing many documents and artefacts along the way. I don't think it has to be that way. I always tried to find simple solutions to these intangible problems, raising the confidence level just enough and then get going.

    Your validation phase can already be very effective if you browse through forums, YouTube comments, social media posts, and so on. You don't have to draft your value proposition canvas and you don't need to have a well-honed and glossy pitch deck. Still, you can produce both (or even more) of those artifacts. If you do, you'll probably experience the biggest benefit in the process, not the end result. What to do greatly depends on your personal preference, your app idea, and the resulting level of uncertainty you're comfortable with.

    One Simple Shortcut: Build It For You

    I recommend to not take any shortcuts, but one: Build the app for you.

    Building an app that you personally want to use gives you such a headstart:

    • You are the "target customer". You know what's helpful, what's valuable, and what's around already.
    • You are emotionally invested in your app's value proposition. You want to have such a product and you're intrinsically motivated to get it.
    • You know where other people just like you will be found. Maybe you're even part of a community that you can tap into for initial feedback and organic growth.

    If you can't or don't want to build an app for you, at least try to build it for someone you know. If you don't know such a person yet, try to find one first.

    Otherwise, you'll need too much effort to even know what to build and why. Or worse: You don't know and build the app anyway.

    Talking to Potential Users

    In the Silicon Valley startup world, there's Steve Blank's famous quote to "get out of your building" and it's true. It's also a bit uncomfortable to really go out and talk to potential customers, but it doesn't have to.

    As I wrote above, I deem it imperative to know at least one of your potential future customers for your envisioned app. If that's the case, it shouldn't be hard to to discuss your app idea for a few minutes or even an hour. This can even be done via text or on a (video) call. If you already have a few visualizations or an engaging story, even better.

    Talking to potential users should result in a lot of learning. Your initial idea might be torn apart, yet your new feature set will be much better. Your assumption about users' problems may turn out completely wrong and you'll identify an even better niche to solve problems. Bouncing your ideas around with other minds may bring you insights you couldn't have had yourself. Don't skip these conversations.

    Market Analysis

    If someone has already built something similar to your idea, research as much as possible about these products. Figure out what users they serve, what features they have and what they might miss – generally how good they are, and how you could be better for some group of users.

    Again, most of this can be done online. Testing the apps, reading through reviews on the App Store and Google Play, browsing through forums and YouTube, etc. should already give you a good enough image of your competitive landscape. If an app similar to your idea existed at some point, figure out why it failed.

    If you're building the app for you, even better: You probably already know what alternative products are around and how yours can be better. Not much additional market analysis needed.

    Technical Feasibility: Does It Even Work?

    Depending on the type of app you're imagining, it may be required to test its technical feasibility. This means, hacking together a simple prototype to test the major technological risks and making sure that it works.

    If your idea doesn't work from a technical perspective, you may still have a chance to build it somehow or somewhen. Maybe it needs adaptations, maybe it's just too early, or maybe you should really look for another app to build.

    An example of mine would be an early prototype that I built for the HRM app. In order for such an app to be possible, a few technical things must work: The iPhone must be able to offer a BLE Heart Rate Service, the iPhone must be able to connect to a bike computer, the Apple Watch must be able to transmit real-time heart rate measurements to the iPhone, and all of this must work with either app in the background.
    On a weekend, I built an initial prototype that did just that.
    Luckily, all of this worked without any major workarounds needed. If it didn't work, I would've needed to either find a way to make it work or drop the idea altogether.

    What If My Idea Is Crap?

    Your product validation may surface that your app idea doesn't seem to solve a big enough problem for many people, that people won't be willing to pay for it, or that there's just too much competition to have a realistic chance at success. If so, you should do yourself a favor and drop your idea.

    It may be hard initially, but it will be the right thing to do. If you fail to do so, you won't have the resources to pursue your next, really good, idea. This would be worse than the short-lived resentment of letting a seemingly good idea go.

    Where To Take It From Here?

    Ideally, your app idea doesn't require any outside investment. Just your own time, skills, energy, and a little money. If so, your only stakeholder is you. Therefore, in order to wrap up the validation phase, what really counts is your own objective confidence in your idea.

    If you (roughly) identified what you want to build, for whom, why, and how, and feel confident about it, it's time to start working on your app's design and then your minimum viable product: Your MVP.

    If you feel confident enough to give it a shot, your validation phase is done. Please get started.

    I wanted to dive a bit deeper into this topic, yet keep it concise enough for a quick read. If you want any more info, please let me know. If you're currently at this phase and want to do be quicker and more effective, my one-on-one mentoring may be for you.
    In any case, I hope the article is helpful to you and wish you success!
    – Dominik

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    Dominik Maglia

    All of the content on here is original, and was researched and written by me, Dominik Maglia.

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