Published on Thursday January 3rd, 2019 by Afrocks
How We Kinda Validated Afrocks Startup Idea Without Wasting (Too Much) Time And Money
Ok so you woke up this morning with THAT killer idea for a startup, and you just can’t wait to get started: build that sh*t and ship it, right?
It reminds me when I first thought about starting Afrocks. To me, it was pretty much all mapped out. I was going to build the product, launch it, grow it, maybe sell it and then breeze through the rest of life as a successful entrepreneur. Daydreaming!
If starting a business is way cheaper than it used to be, like 10-20 years ago, you will still need to pump some great cash into your venture. So before you quit your day job, draw up a business plan, or waste any serious time or money, you need to start with validating your idea.
‘Idea validation’ is the process of testing and proving your idea – in other words, showing that (some) people are ready to pay for your product. It should go beyond simply registering their email addresses on a landing page.
Here’s how we validated Afrocks’ idea way before building the platform. Hopefully this will help you understand the rationale behind product validation, and inspire you into starting your own business.
Before even validating your idea, do some market research
This comes before starting the idea validation, as you need to make sure there is a market for it. Depending on what kind of business you want to build, this step could be yay or nay. Let say you want to build a global, VC backed business, you would ideally look after huge market size that you can grab. If you’d rather start small, within a super tiny niche, than no need to looking for billion of pounds market size. I have to admit that when I first started looking into creating the business I wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about the market research side of things, and I would have happily ditched this fundamental step if it wasn’t for my business partner (bless him). To me, the idea was quite clear, market was there and people were just rooting for my product to land. As someone with no hair styling background and no industry knowledge whatsoever, I’m quite glad I went through this as I learnt…well…basically everything.
In all cases, market research should never be underestimated. Here’s what we did as market research:
– We read extensively about our target market
This is why I love the internet! If you type the right keywords, you will find market reports for most industries, for free. Research and resources for UK afro hair industry/market are relatively limited but, reading reports, articles and blog posts gave us better idea of trends, pricing, issues and market size.
– Researched about our potential customers.
Once we had a better understanding of the industry, we started to imagine who our ideal customers would be, and where we could find them. This includes information such as age range, education level, location, occupation and buying habits etc. We literally wrote down every single piece of info on a piece of paper and proceeded to create a persona with Xtensio.
Xtensio is a pretty cool web app that makes it easy to create amazing business documents such as persona, pitch decks, competitive analysis and much more – using clean and uncomplicated templates. Back when we created our persona, it was completely free, as they were in public beta. Pricing now starts from $8 but there’s a ‘free forever’ plan you can still use.
Creating your persona is not as straightforward as you could imagine…we kinda struggled to be honest, and you will have to draw the (thin) line between who you think your customers are and the industry/market data. A good way to start could actually be finding out who the customers are for similar products or services. No one said it was forbidden to have a look at what your competitors were doing…
– Studied competitors and similar services inside out.
Yep! It’s part of the job. You HAVE to know who your competitors are. Period. And if you don’t have competitors, go find some. I pitched to a few investors and they would always ask me about our competitors. They will ask you about it, not matter what stage you are at. And from what I gathered, saying that you are first to market won’t necessarily impress the lot.
Truth is, we were the first in the UK to come up with the concept at the time, but that didn’t stop us from looking at the likes of afro hair stylists directories, for instance.
We also researched a lot about what was going in the US. By comparing companies that have similar products, you can better understand the business landscape and learn how they’ve succeeded (or failed).
Coming soon Landing page
Before getting into how we actually did it, I would like, once again, to strongly encourage you to validate your idea BEFORE throwing all your savings into design and development of a mobile app. I’ve met with so many entrepreneurs went for the kill and started building a product/service they wanted, and not what the customers needed. No problem solved = no buying customers.
Alright – getting there, finally!
Following the market research, once we felt we were onto something, we decided to build an MVP or minimum viable product. The MVP should be a minimal version of your product that will attract potential customers and give you an indication about their interest. If you are interested in learning about the concept of MVP and lean startup, I recommend reading the Lean startup by Eric Ries.
Our very first ‘MVP’ was actually a very basic coming soon landing page.
Purists will say: A ‘Coming soon’ landing page is not an MVP (I agree with them). Nevertheless we agreed to start with a landing page to build a database we could later reach out to once we have our ‘real’ MVP ready.
So to summarise we had:
– Basic headline/title to grab attention and explain the concept very briefly.
– Compelling background picture. We had 3 or 4 pictures competing against each other in basic A/B testing to see which one was getting more conversions.
– Block to grab clients and stylists’ email addresses (yeah this was way before GDPR)
We created this page for free (at the time) with a drag and drop software called Instapage. No coding or design background required!
We just paid £35 Facebook ads to drive traffic to the landing page. Result: we had +2,000 clients signups in just a couple of days.
Quite encouraging, right? but not enough to actually validate the idea. We needed more.
The numbers of signups got us indubitably excited, but we needed to prove that people were actually willing to PAY for the service. Yes! Get their debit card out and get their details in.
Next step was all about building a slightly more elaborated MVP. The idea was to come up with something cheap, with minimal features and functionalities – but enhanced enough to enable clients interaction.
What we did at that stage was designing/coding a few pages in where clients could actually perform basic search and browse through a list of (fake) stylists profiles.
The screenshot below was the very first stylist result page. If you know our website, it looks nothing like what we have now: we had no star rating system, no reviews from clients and no individual stylist’s page.
And yes, the fake profile below is myself ha!
In this process, the clients could only research a few locs and natural hair services. But we had made it quite easy for them to reach a payment page (screenshot below)
When clients were clicking on ‘Book stylist’ button we had a popup message along these lines:
‘Hey we’re not fully ready yet but please leave your email and we’ll get in touch once we’re live’
After pumping £150 in paid ads, results were in:
In just a few days, we had recorded that +70 clients were actually ready to pay for the service.
It might not be a huge number but for us it was enough to prove that people would use the service.
A few things to remember though: your MVP is not your final product, and it shouldn’t be. Sometimes we tend to be a little bit too perfectionist when we release service/product. The objective here is to build something cheap and fast to prove your point – it doesn’t have to be beautiful. Don’t waste too much time and energy on something people might never buy!
Our validating process was far from being perfect. We probably could have done more, we could have done better, and this is in no way a validation process you should blindly follow. Make your own experience, your own sauce and trust your instinct – at some point.
Whether we succeed or fail in our journey won’t consequently be down to the way we validated our business idea, although I believe it is a very important step. There are so many other factors leading to success or failure…like how you keep a cool head and put up a good fight when challenges come by. But let’s save this one out for another blog post.
Did you enjoy reading this blog post?
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If you want to hear more about the struggles of being a startup founder, read my post on how we nearly shutdown Afrocks. Enjoy!
Hey! I am Hervé the Founder & CEO of Afrocks, a platform connecting mobile afro hair stylist with clients. I love having a good fight (inside a ring), excel spreadsheets and formulas and other geek stuff. Get in touch! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org