30 Questions to Validate Your Business Idea & Market [Updated]

We all have ideas, that’s the easy part.  Validating, iterating, and executing is the hard part.  Often, we can fall in love with our ideas and lose sight of the customer and market we must ultimately serve.  For your idea to succeed, you need a market and an ideal customer that you can focus your product development on.  As such, in my experience working with thousands of aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs around the world, I have learned that one of the most difficult challenges in taking ideas from concept to creation is taking a few steps back to research and validate the market (problem).

The following 30 questions will help you explore the market, validate your problem/idea, and help you decide whether this is worth pursuing.

  1. What is your idea? State it in 300 characters or less.
  2. Who is the ideal customer for your idea? Be specific.
  3. Be more specific about your ideal customer. What does your ideal customer feel, think, want, and do?
  4. What problem does your idea solve for your ideal customer?
  5. What obstacle are you removing for your ideal customer?
  6. In what way do you make your customer’s life easier?
  7. If you successfully resolve this problem/obstacle, what is the ultimate objective your ideal customer able to accomplish? In other words, what did your ideal customer really want to achieve in the first place?  (hint:  they do not wake up wanting to solve their problem.  They want achieve the goal that the problem is interfering with!)

When I refer to ultimate objective, I am referring to the job that your customer really wants to get done when they run into a problem.  Often, we think our customers only want to solve their problems.  While that is true to an extent, it is important for us to consider that they only want to solve their problems in order to achieve their ultimate objective.  Let’s take AirBnB as an example.  They have many ideal customers.  Earlier on in their startup journey, young professionals were a primary ideal customer (they have many more now).  These young professionals might have traveled while in college, staying in hostels, but after graduation, they are looking for something a little better.  Their budgets might still be limited which may prevent them from staying at some of the Hilton or Marriott properties out there.  For this ideal customer, their ultimate objective is to travel the world, visit new cities, make new friends, connect with the authentic local culture, and experience the city.  The problem that gets in their way is their limited travel budget, tourist traps, affordable hotels far from city centers, and concierge recommendations to visit the priciest restaurants and attractions.  AirBnB provides these young professionals with an opportunity to stay in a city-center, connect with locals, and all for less than they would spend at a chain hotel, especially after you factor in local taxes.  Thus, this ideal customer, has an ultimate objective or a job to be done, as Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, puts it.  AirBnB understands their job to be done better than Marriott or Hilton and is able to provide solutions that not only address some of their ideal customer’s problems, but in some cases bypasses them all together.  Going forward, I will refer to the customer’s “ultimate objective” as the job to be done.

  1. How does your customer measure the success of the job to be done? What metrics do they use?  In the case of the traveling young professional, it might be # of cities visited in their 20’s, among many others.
  2. How does your customer currently accomplish the job to be done, without your solution? In other words, what is the status quo?
  3. How well does your customer currently perform the job to be done, without your awesome idea? Use the metric you identified in question #8 to measure their current score.
  4. How does the problem come to be that affects your customer’s job to be done? That is, tell us more about the problem.  Answer the following questions as they relate to the problem that emerges and gets in the customer’s way.
  5. Where does the problem develop or occur?
  6. How does it develop or occur?
  7. When does it occur?
  8. Why does it occur?
  9. How much does this problem affect the job to be done? Does it completely stop the show?  Or does it diminish the success of the job to be done?  By how much?
  10. How much is the result worth to your customer? That is, if the objective is achieved, what is that worth in dollars?
  11. How much does the problem cost your customer? If the problem stops the result completely, it at least costs you the amount of the opportunity (opportunity cost).  However, there may be other costs associated with the problem.

Earlier, we used your idea as a starting point and question #3 asked you to identify the ideal customer for your idea.  Now that you have had some time to explore the job to be done and the problems standing in the way, other potential customers may have emerged.  That is, there may be other stakeholders or players involved that might be even better customers than the ones you identified when you only thought of your idea/product.  Given what you have learned about the problem,  let’s revisit your ideal customer, job to be done, and problem(s).

  1. Who is your ideal customer? Again, be specific.  Customer vs. User.  This time you may also consider close relatives of your ideal customer.  These might be other stakeholders in the job to be done and/or problem.
  2. What does your ideal customer really want to accomplish? (hint: the job to be done)  Describe it specifically and measurably.  Sometimes, not even your ideal customer knows all the measurable elements of their job to be done.  This might create an opportunity to provide them with value during the sales process.
  3. What problem(s) stand in your customer’s way of getting the job to be done completed?
  4. How does that problem affect the job to be done?
  5. In what specific and measurable ways does the problem affect the job to be done?  Bonus:  write this in a story format.
  6. How many of these ideal customers are there out there in your domestic market? Or whatever slice of the market makes most sense for you to consider.
  7. How many of these ideal customers are in the global market?
  8. When are they most likely to engage in the job to be done?
  9. When are they most likely to notice the problems affecting their job to be done?
  10. How much is the job to be done worth to your customer? In dollars, time, people, waste, etc.  There are many ways to calculate this.  Eventually, you will need to calculate this in dollars, however, for now, start wherever it makes sense.
  11. How many times can your customer complete that job to be done in a week, month, year? This helps us understand how often your solution may be needed.
  12. What would make your idea the most amazing offer possible to this ideal customer, given their job to be done? In other words, what would your irresistible offer be that your ideal customer could not refuse?

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