What does a validated hypothesis look like?

Customer development — both interviewing and then figuring out how to decipher the responses you get — is an art, not a science.

A validated hypothesis has the following components:

  • Customer confirms that there is a problem.
  • Customer doesn’t accept it the problem as “that’s life” or “it’s beyond my control.”
  • Customer is already investing resources (time, money, learning curve) into trying to solve this problem.
  • Customer is already investing behavioral change into trying to solve this problem.
  • Customer does not have any constraints that prevent them from trying this solution.

(Yes, you can launch a product without having all of these validations in place, and it might still be a success.  And distribution and pricing may still kill you.  But this is a really strong start.)

But what does that actually look like? (And what does not validated look like?)

I’ll list out some examples of “maybe” vs. a “yes!” responses.  Let’s use Freda and Jasper, both of whom have already told us that they need to lose weight.

Customer confirms that there is a problem

Freda: “I’ve gained 20 pounds over the last few years, and I feel awful.  I have to lie down to zip up my jeans!”

Jasper: “I’ve gained 20 pounds over the last few years, and I feel awful. I had to move my belt out another notch this morning!”

Yep, both of them have a problem.

Customer doesn’t accept it the problem as “that’s life” or “it’s beyond my control.”

Freda: “It’s so hard; I’m so busy with work and kids and volunteering.  But I know it’s possible to lose weight, and I just have to make the effort.”

Jasper: “It’s so hard; I’m so busy with work and kids and volunteering.  I guess that’s why everyone I know gets heavier after age 35…”

…but Jasper sees this situation as normal.  If he doesn’t lose weight, he’ll still be the same as his peer group.

Customer is already investing resources (time, money, learning curve) into trying to solve this problem.

Freda: “I joined my neighborhood gym and signed up for a trainer.  It’s expensive, but if I know what I should be doing, I’ll be more likely to keep it up, unlike last time.”

Jasper: “Yeah, I really should lose some weight – that’s why I’m really interested to see what your product is, maybe it can help me!”

Don’t confuse aspirational thinking (“I wish I was the type of person who did X”) with customers ready to take action (“I wish I had tools to help me do X better/faster/more effectively”).

Customer is already investing behavioral change into trying to solve this problem.

Freda: “I started taking the stairs instead of the elevator.  I used to drink 3 or 4 sodas a day, now I’m down to 1 and water or tea the rest of the time.  I feel like that’s not enough, though.”

Jasper: “When did you say your product will be ready?  I can’t wait – I just need something to kickstart me into action and then boom, I’ll really get serious about this.”

Jasper will never be serious about this.  Jasper is still riding the elevator one floor up to the vending machines.  Jasper will never pay you anything.

Customer does not have any constraints that prevent them from trying this solution.

Freda: “I’m lucky my family is supportive of my goals and, even if they don’t like it much, they won’t revolt at me spending more time exercising and keeping less junk food in the house.”

Jasper: “Well, it’ll depend.  My kids are such picky eaters, I don’t think I can convince them to try kale or couscous.  And, of course, my wife has us on a pretty tight budget with the current economy…”

Jasper has external stakeholders who will sabotage this sale.

The thing is, both of these people can sound genuinely concerned and eager and enthusiastic.  Tone alone could entirely fool you.  Emotion is important — certainly, with lack of emotion you’ll have a hard time selling — but behavioral indicators are much stronger.

6 Responses to “What does a validated hypothesis look like?”

Bryan Hall:

Great post and examples Cindy. Thanks!

It is always tough to keep the serious customers separate from the aspirational customers in the results. When I first started customer development I would be excited when someone resonated with my product and would not really figure out whether they were serious or not. Careful scripting and listening for the right cues as you pointed out in you examples, has made a huge difference.

Bryan Hall
@bryathlon:twitter 

cindyalvarez:

One exception I should note, though, is that “aspirational customers” are not always bad — if you’re selling a one-time solution, with little word-of-mouth, they’re your best customer base! (i.e. Thighmaster, buy my investment CD and learn how to make millions, diet pills, timeshare condos)

Bryan Hall:

Thanks for the clarification. I suppose aspiration may not be the right word for it. I mean you could say that a lot of the iPhone and iPod purchases were aspirational. People aspired to be cool and associated with the brand. The great product experience then kept them as customers.

I suppose the real difference is that one set of customers has is showing that they believe a solution can be found and they are willing to take action. The other set wants a solution, but they are not convinced it exists and are not likley to exert any effort to find or use it. Maybe passive vs. active is more clear.

@Bryathlon:disqus 

John:

Good of you to mention this Cindy, there are a lot of people out there who talk about how they would make a change but they know they probably never will but at the time they sound so interested, as you point out.

Thpse people i think need to talk about it to kid themselves that they would if only there were no hurdles in front of them.

I will keep this in mind when listening to people in the future, to help distinguish the chatters/moaners from the doers.

Anonymous:

This answered the questions I was asking myself. Examples are expecially important here. A very valuable post, thank you!

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