Idea Validation – How to Validate an Invention (2 of 3)

This article, Idea Validation – How to Validate an invention (Part 2 of 3), is part of a series on how to validate your invention. If you haven’t already, we strongly encourage you read the first part of this series. It will give you much needed context before you read this article. Then be sure to follow this article up with our article on Market Validation.

What is Idea Validation?

As mentioned in the previous post, there is Idea Validation and Market Validation. In this article, we are focusing on Idea Validation.

Idea Validation is proving that people do have the problem you want to solve, and that they care enough about it to pay for a solution. Not necessarily your solution specifically, but a solution.

The idea is that if they don’t have the problem, or don’t know they don’t have the problem, then they aren’t likely to search for a solution. Making them an extremely difficult type of customer to sell too.

But if they know they have a problem and actively look for solutions already, then you are on to something. Offering a better solution than they have now may be a great place to base an invention business off.

Validation absolutely requires you communicate and involve your target customer. Inventions created in a vacuum, they rarely succeed.

Idea Validation - How to Validate an Invention

Target market customer persona?

First you have to identify your target market. This involves going relatively in depth in defining your target market’s customer persona.

This might be a subject that you seek out additional direction. But it generally means to outline who your ideal customer is. Identifying characteristics such as gender, age, education level, income level, interests, etc. What makes them tick.

Where do you find your target market?

  • Online Groups: Facebook, Reddit, Discord, dedicated forums, etc.
  • Local Groups: Meetups, local groups, etc.
  • Stores: Stand out front of stores where your item would be sold. If commercial, try to find out where they hang out.
  • Other: Trade shows, conferences and other events.

What stops your target market from stealing your idea?

It’s very common for inventors to not want to tell people about their idea over fear of it getting stolen. Most of the time, their fear is actually unfounded.

Despite the stories, it’s exceptionally rare to have an idea stolen. When in reality, the damage most often done by people worrying about this, is statistically significantly worse than the total damage done by ideas getting stolen. You might be interested in our article on the subject for more context.

Regardless, to validate an idea, you shouldn’t even tell anyone what your idea is. Actually, it’s best if they don’t know you even have an idea or are trying to solve any problem. That’s for the Market Validation step. For this step, you are purely identifying what your target customer does now.

Idea Validation - How to Validate an Invention

How do you approach your target customer?

First, it’s important to understand your surroundings and any rules there may be. As an example, many groups have rules against trying to sell your product. You won’t be selling your product, but that sometimes doesn’t matter.

What matters is if the rule makers or moderators think you are trying to sell something. Whether they are right or wrong, they can ban you without notice. That’s why you should be very careful with how you address whoever you are talking too.

Validation experts say the best way to approach your target customer is to start by adding value. Be helpful and try to answer people’s questions. This will help you build trust in the community.

This unfortunately is hogwash, particularly with online groups. At least for the most part.
The reason is, people rarely pay attention to the name of the person who gave advice to someone on an online forum. That social credit you might build, it’s mostly none existent. Mods don’t know or care if you have been adding value. If they think you broke the rules, you are gone.

The actual reason you should add value to these groups is because the specific person you give value too is much more likely to hear what you have to say off-line in a DM. As well, other people reading your response may also reach out to you for more information. Those are the people you should be targeting for your validation conversation.

Use groups to add value so that you get interaction. Then reach out directly to those who interacted with you.

Feedback vs Validation:

One of the most common things inventors do wrong in the Validation step to assure they fail expensively is to ask the wrong questions.

New Inventors often ask questions that they don’t even realize are designed to elicit a positive response regardless if the idea is good or not. Then when they get that positive response, they mistake it for proof their idea is good. When in reality, all they really did was ask someone to tell them what they wanted to hear.

It’s human nature to want to make people happy. Even if your idea is clearly bad, it’s generally harder for people to be willing to tell you that than it is to just agree with you. Don’t put them in that position.

All that ultimately matters in Validation is if people are willing to part ways with their money for the would-be product. Someone telling you that they would buy something does not count. Being told the idea is great, has absolutely nothing to do with validation. Positive feedback like that is what is known as a false positive.

Inventors who base their decisions on false positives, they fail expensively.

What questions should you ask?

The Market Validation step is when you want to know what people think about your idea. But in the Idea Validation step, you want to know what people think about the problem your idea solves. Or, what real world scenarios they actually experience that would lead them to look for a product like you have in mind. You want them to describe that scenario to you.

The actual specific questions you ask will depend on the market, product and even the feel of the conversation. There isn’t a one size fits all. It’s more about whatever you need to ask to get them to describe specific examples of why they might arrive at needing your product.

For this step, it’s best if you don’t tell them about your idea. It’s actually best if they don’t even know you have an idea. Instead, ask them about the very specific last time they had the problem your idea would solve. Have them explain it in detail. Be sure to probe deeper into if they looked for a solution at the time.

If they don’t actually even experience the problem themselves, then they are likely not going to buy a solution. If they have the problem, but don’t actively look for a solution, then they also likely won’t be looking for your solution. It’s the fine art of learning if they would actually be a customer or not. And then collecting more examples of would be customers than most likely not customers.

The questions should dig deep into their past experience. Always stay clear of hypothetical statement they may make. If they every talk about what they would do, be careful. You want to know specifically what they do, not what they would do.

Further reading:

The Idea Validation step is very well outlined in the book “The Mom Test” by Robert Fitzpatrick.. We can’t stress enough how valuable this book is for this process. Though it is mainly geared towards business startups, the concept is still the same. If this book were required reading for every inventor with an idea, the success rate of inventions would skyrocket overnight.

We also like to recommend “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. This book is often refereed too as the business startup Bible. It very much encompasses the idea of Validation before significant investment. Something that is as true for Inventing as it is for business startups. 


This article, Idea Validation (Part 2 of 3), is part of a larger series on Validation. Please be sure to follow this up with also reading Market Validate (Part 3 of 3).

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