One of the most important aspects of starting a business is validating that there is a demand for your products. There is nothing more discouraging than spending your time and energy creating a product that you think people will love, only to realize that there’s no interest when you launch.
My family and I run Jaswant’s Kitchen, where we make and sell natural Indian seasonings and cooking kits that help our customers cook healthy, delicious meals at home. When we started our business seven years ago, we strongly believed in the quality of our products, but we weren’t exactly sure how to prove whether or not customers would actually buy.
Fast-forward to today, we’ve now sold thousands of cooking kits online throughout North America and through many grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, in the United States.
Although it took lots of trial and error, our experience has taught us there are a number of effective ways to validate whether or not you’re selling something people want. If you’re starting out, here are five strategies to validate your product that we personally recommend.
Prefer a written version? Below you’ll find a slightly expanded overview of our favorite ways to validate a new product.
1. Ring the cash register
The first and arguably best way to validate your product is to prioritize making a few initial sales. Nothing is more important than customers seeing the value in your product and exchanging money for it.
Remember that while talking to potential customers is an important part of building your business, until people pay you all you have is a list of assumptions. Market research, surveys, and feedback from friends and family can point you in the right direction, but real product validation only happens when money changes hands.
For us, that happened at the first few shows we went to, where complete strangers bought our product. That’s when we knew we were fulfilling a genuine need with a product people would pay for.
2. Conduct competitive analysis
Research can be useful when you’re still in the ideation stage or searching for a product to sell. Exploring the current market can also help you mitigate risk and build confidence in your idea before investing too much time and money.
Our second suggestion is to evaluate the market for your product as it stands today to ensure there’s enough demand to build a viable business. One way to make sure there is a healthy market to sell to is to look closely at your direct competition. Find out what they are doing and how it compares to what you are planning to do.
If there are competitors out there, you’ll at least confirm there’s existing demand for what you’re selling. Businesses that don't make money don't stay in business, so learning about how long your competitors have managed to stay in business and roughly what their trajectory has looked like can provide some rough validation that this is a market you can successfully sell in.
Learn More: How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis
Remember not to get discouraged when you see competitors that have already grown big businesses. The fact that they exist will give you a good sense of whether what you are offering is unique or different than what’s currently in the market, which can point you toward untapped opportunities or help you figure out what to focus on going forward.
Competition is good, because it confirms that there’s existing demand for what you plan to sell.
The easiest way to discover your competitors is a simple Google search. You can also check out hashtags on Instagram or Pinterest, or run a quick search on Facebook. If you're new to social media, don’t feel too shy to ask a person in your life who’s savvy for a little help.
You can also check out your competition’s social media to see how engaged their customers are with their posts and products. It’s a great way to check out negative feedback about a product and see if you can find a way to improve.
3. Research the existing demand
A third strategy you can use to validate your product and its market is to analyze demand and search volume. Now that you know more about your competitors, let’s take a closer look at interest from potential customers.
The easiest starting place is to go to Google Trends. This is a free tool that allows you to see how often people are searching for the product you’re selling. Knowing where the market is going can help you make a more informed decision and using Google Trends lets you see if your product idea is trending up, down, or if it’s stagnant. The last thing you want to do is jump into a declining market.
The second tool you can use is Google’s Keyword Planner Tool. This tool allows you to search for keywords and phrases related to your product, and then displays the total number of searches for each of the terms you choose.
For example, we first assumed people might be searching for “spices” or “spice blends” and we focused on those keywords, but over time we realized that if people don’t even realize that a product like ours exists, they won’t search for it in that way. We realized they were more likely to search for names of the final products or recipes they wanted to eat, which could lead them to our products as a new way to make those dishes.
Once you really start getting a sense of your customer base, it’s critical that they have a way to communicate with and provide feedback to you. The quickest and easiest way is to provide friends and family with your minimum viable product (MVP) and then gather feedback using a free survey.
We recommend creating an anonymous survey in a Google Form or with SurveyMonkey. It’s a great idea to also include people who are not your direct family or friends as they may be less biased and provide more honest feedback.
Be resourceful here, and be willing to have conversations with friends or family to help you find your ideal customer. Talk to other business owners to get ideas on how they did this as well.
4. Start a crowdfunding campaign
A crowdfunding campaign is a helpful, proven option to see if there’s demand for your product. One of the benefits of a crowdfunding campaign is that you have a firm timeline and it requires all of your focus and effort to reach your goal.
Market research can be useful, but real product validation requires paying customers.
If interested in running a campaign, it’s important to find the right service for your launch. Indiegogo and Kickstarter are well-known platforms, though there have been many others that have popped up in recent years. Do some research to ensure you have the right platform with the right community to launch your product, and definitely try to talk to people who have run successful crowdfunding campaigns for tips.
I also recommend checking out Shopify’s guide to crowdfunding for a more complete overview.
5. Meet customers in person
Another method we can confidently recommend is to sign up for a craft show or local market. This was so helpful for us when we were starting Jaswant’s Kitchen. It provided a convenient way to gather quick, first-hand feedback from potential customers.
Selling in person has the added benefit of a strict deadline that you need to take action by, which is why we personally love it. This deadline acts as a forcing function that pushes you to get your products ready, and to get yourself ready to sell them. Once you’re able to meet in person, you’ll benefit by getting to talk to potential customers, seeing their initial reactions to your product, and finding out if they are willing to spend money on it.
Search for markets and craft shows in your area to find ones that fit well with your brand and product. Consider having a set of questions ready to ask customers, such as their preferences on color and flavor, and what if any competing products they might currently be using.
Finally, test different price points to see if there is a certain price that works best for your product, especially when you are in the early stages.
Selling products people want
There are a number of other ways to validate your product, and we share additional resources in our full course on Shopify Academy. In the course, we also cover other important lessons we’ve learned about reaching new customers and scaling our business.
One final point all entrepreneurs should keep in mind is to not let validation turn into procrastination. Doing the initial legwork to validate your product is undeniably useful: it will give you the confidence necessary to put yourself out there, and it can help you avoid costly mistakes, saving you time and money.
The truth is every business owner has to learn as they go, and trying to perfectly predict how everything will play out just delays you from shipping and selling a real product. Dipping your toes in the water can teach you a lot, but all of your research and analysis is ultimately just a lead up to that pivotal moment when you finally dive in.
Do you have another method for validating a product idea that has worked well for you? Let us know in the comments!