You might think that you have a great business concept, but if people aren’t willing to pay for it, then all your hard work, time and money would have been for nothing. This is why it is important to test and validate your product as early as possible. It can also help you attract investors.
According to Ben White, founder of the online community VC4Africa, investors don’t back ideas, but rather companies. The more evidence you have that your idea works, the more likely someone will invest in it.
Talking to potential customers will provide you with important insight.
“The feedback you get is critical to understanding the assumptions that are being made and whether or not they are accurate,” says White. “The more feedback, the more refined the model.”
But where can you find people to test your idea?
Take to the streets
One simple step would be to visit public spaces, like shopping malls, and talk to as many people as possible.
Ask people to try out a prototype of your product, and provide feedback. You can also discover what other solutions they use and how much they pay for them to better understand your competition. And if your participants are willing to provide their contact details, you could give them a sample and follow up later once they have properly used the product.
Crowdfunding is increasingly being used as a way of validating and testing business ideas. Online crowdfunding platforms not only allow entrepreneurs to source funding, but also reveal how strong an idea is by whether people will pay to see it become a reality. With crowdfunding you are building a community around your idea. These people will tell you if your idea is worthwhile, and they can also offer support to get your product market-ready.
Popular online crowdfunding platforms include Kickstarter, Indiegogo and RocketHub. There are also some African-focused ones like Thundafund, LelapaFund and Farm Capital Africa.
Bring in an expert
There are a number of companies and organisations across the continent aimed at helping entrepreneurs in the idea-stage. They can test your idea objectively, and mentor you in the right direction.
One example is Senegalese virtual incubator Concree.com, which offers entrepreneurs validation of a business concept, and interventions when necessary. Online portal VC4Africa is another great space to showcase new ventures and seek feedback from other start-up founders, mentors and investors.
Use online tools
There are also online tools that can offer crowdsourced testing, especially for software solutions. Platforms like BugFinders, Ubertesters and test IO have networks of hundreds of people across the world that will test your software and applications.
Other services such as Javelin can help you identify customer needs and find the right product-market fit.
However, some of these platforms focus on markets outside of the African context, and you should first make sure that the solution they’re offering is relevant to your business. They can also be pricey, which is why Ben White suggests cash-strapped entrepreneurs first try out platforms that offer free trials.
“The world of software is advancing every day and there are hundreds of tools available online. Any entrepreneur should find 20 hours to do this research,” says White. “Try a few out until you find the right combination for the business you are building.”