How to validate a startup business idea with $0

How to validate a startup business idea with $0

You can't start making those investments until you've validated your idea. So do the work and cycle through as many ideas as possible where your only investment is time.

Too many founders and startups waste time (and money) chasing ideas that were doomed from the start. There are many reasons startups fail, but a lack of market lead is consistently near the top.

If you’re going to pour resources into a startup idea, you need some indication that the product is something people actually want and need. Validating startup ideas is incredibly important.

But how can you validate your startup idea without spending thousands of dollars?

I'm about to show you five simple steps that you can use to help you understand if there is a market for your idea.

In this article, I'll show:

  • how to validate an idea with $0
  • which no-code tools you can use
  • and provide tips and tricks to test if your startup idea is ready for the market.

#1. Speak to people

The first thing you need to do is feel out interest in your idea. You can start by doing a bit of research on Google, social media, and forums.

Some places that you can use are:

  • Facebook (groups, especially for B2C)
  • LinkedIn (especially for B2B)
  • Reddit
  • Quora
  • or any forum that is related to your product

Search for keywords that are related to your idea. Are people talking about the pain point you want to solve? Are they unhappy with existing solutions on the market? Is there a reasonable volume of search queries on Google? If so, you might have something.

Next, you need to get a customer conversation pipeline going. It’s like a sales pipeline, but it exists to capture critical opinions from the type of people who make up your target audience.

Building a conversation pipeline involves reaching out to people who understand problems and pain points in the industry.

But how can you fill it with valuable voices and opinions?

Here are a couple of sources you can use to fill your conversation pipeline.

1) Reach out to some people who fit your target audience. Use social media, business contacts, or friends of friends.

You can have these conversations in person or online. Additionally, you can build surveys to get the information you need.

There are several free form or survey tools on the market, like:

  • Google Forms
  • Zoho Survey
  • Jotform

2) Post on LinkedIn about your idea and ask your network what they think. You might get some great insights.

Once you have built up a list of people, consider asking the best and most insightful prospects to conduct a video interview. There are lots of free options like:

  • Google Meet
  • Zoom
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Skype
  • Yep

Compile all of this information together. Some trends should emerge, and by the end of the process, you should have a good idea if there is a market for your product.

If there is, proceed to the next step.

#2. Create a prototype

For the next step, you can build a prototype. It doesn't need to be a slick, polished app, but it does need to give users some idea of how your product will work.

First, you can get a wireframe going. There are lots of tools that you can use to build a wireframe for free, such as:

  • Figma
  • Adobe XD
  • Mockplus

Alternatively, you can build an interactive prototype on many of these tools. Again, the important thing here is not to commit one line of code until you are sure your app works and people need it.

Don't get hung up on features. It's not the time. Right now, you just want to establish the core elements of what makes your product valuable.

If you think your product will benefit from it, you can also consider building a product walkthrough. Again, this will just be a no-code demonstration of how your product will solve the core issue or pain point.

You can edit a video together that demonstrates what you do or host product walkthroughs on Loom or Vidyard, which both have free versions.

Finally, if you want to really test your idea's validity, you could try pitching it to investors. There are a bunch of free tools that you can use here, like:

  • Pitch Deck
  • Canva
  • Pitch

#3. Build a MVP landing page

If you're getting positive responses, then it's time to build a lean, stripped-back landing page. This step is essential.

Often, when you speak to people and show them your prototype, they can tell you that they'd buy your product. However, that sentiment doesn't translate into sales when it comes to parting with their money.

OK, so you don't have a finished product to sell or download yet, but don’t let that stop you. Plenty of entrepreneurs have built landing pages for products that offer pre-sales versions. Additionally, you can measure other actions, such as users signing up for the product when it's ready.

Keep your landing page as stripped back as you can. Focus on your message and ensure that you answer these core questions.

A) What problem does your product or service solve?

B) How will you go about solving it?

C) What are the existing solutions on the market not cutting it?

Additionally, you need to provide transparent pricing for your product. If it's a subscription service, make that clear.

Finally, you should include a clear call to action.

There are lots of free tools you can use to build your landing page. Some great free options include:

  • Typedream
  • Carrd
  • Unbounce

Additionally, there are paid options like WordPress and Webflow.

If you want to take money for your product, you can use a simple payment processor like Stripe or PayPal. These apps integrate with landing pages very well.

Of course, they're not necessarily the best option for subscription payments. Instead, you can use a free tool like Memberstack (YC 20).

#4. Build A Lean CRM

Next up, you'll need a customer relationship management tool to help you collect customer data and manage leads and prospects. There are a few different ways you can go here.

Big CRM tools like Salesforce and Hubspot offer free options. However, both of these tools have limitations on users, storage, and specific features and functions.

However, if you want something functional that is 100% free, you should consider building a stripped-back CRM. The idea here is that you will connect your lean CRM to the landing page you built. As prospects roll in, you'll be able to collect their names, details, emails, etc.

Building your own CRM might seem like a daunting prospect. But you can do it fairly simply thanks to some free tools and without writing any code.

Basically, you need three components.

A) A form-capturing tool to connect with your landing page and let people fill out their details.

B) A database to manage your customers' information.

C) Some automation tools that tie these two apps together.

So, let's deal with each one.

Form tools

Several great form tools out there can help you capture and build forms on your website or landing page.

Here are four of the best options that you can use to build forms.

  • Google Forms
  • Tally forms
  • Jotforms
  • VideoAsk
  • Typeform

Database

You need a solid database to keep your customer info. You can use something like Microsoft Access or even Excel or Google Sheets at a push, but I would recommend using Airtable.

While the paid version of Airtable is infinitely more powerful, the free version is no slouch. It allows up to 5 users, with 1,200 records per base and 1,200 records per table. It works on mobile (Apple and Android) and desktop (PC & Mac). Additionally, it's cloud-based and facilitates commenting and collaboration.

Additionally, even with the free version, you can create charts, design interfaces, sync with popular products, and even benefit from support.

It's software that is simple to use and runs a database. It's a great free tool.

Automation

Finally, you'll want to use some free no-code tools that allow you to connect your landing page with your database. I would highly recommend Zapier because of its ease of use, flexibility, and excellent connectivity.

OK, the free version of Zapier is limited. You can only have five "zaps" or automations going at once. Additionally, you are limited to 100 actions per month. But if you set it up right and time out your automations, that's enough. For example, you could set Zapier to collect form data at the end of the day, week, or so on.

Once you've done all that, you'll have a very lean but functional CRM.

#5. Get out there and market your product

You might think you need a lot of money to market an idea, but there are ways to get your product in front of people without breaking the bank or spending any money at all.

Here are a few tips that can help you drum up some interest in your business and let you know if you're on to something good.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great way to market your business. There are a few different approaches that you can take.

1) Set up your personal LinkedIn profile so that it highlights your product. Add pictures, texts, links to videos, etc. Additionally, you can add your landing page to your profile or bio and see if you can drive traffic.

2) Create great LinkedIn content that draws the interest of prospects. Again, talk about the pain point you built your product to solve and how you have the answers to the issue. Furthermore, link your landing page, and, with luck, you can generate a bit of buzz.

3) Another technique you can use is to comment on the accounts and articles of well-followed accounts. Try to ensure that you are contributing to the conversation in a helpful way, and you might just pick up a few prospects.

4) Join LinkedIn groups related to your sector and post about your business idea. You might get some clicks from your target audience, and you might even get some actionable advice.

We recommend using LinkedIn because it has such a high concentration of decision-makers. Of course, many people use the platform for marketing their goods, so breaking through the noise is tough.

But just be cool, be helpful, don't hard sell too much, and — crucially — offer valuable and useful contributions so you can build up trust, credibility, authority, and goodwill.

Go viral

Another way to get the word out there is to use the virality of social sharing platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Coming up with good ideas that will gain traction isn't easy. Otherwise, everyone would do it.

However, you should try to make some content that could connect. The key thing here is to think about your audience. What content would they like or respond to?

Putting together a video is easy. You can just shoot something on your mobile and chop it with free editing tools.

Cold outreach

Cold outreach can still get results providing you do it right. Data privacy laws mean that you can't just blast out emails to everyone. For starters, if they are considered spam, it could harm your email domain. And you need an email domain to make your sales emails look professional.

So build an email list, and use email tools like:

  • PhantomBuster
  • Apollo.io

Additionally, consider sending sales nurturing emails. Again, keep things helpful and interesting and always underline your product's value.

Conclusion

You can do everything we've discussed here with a free tier version of the products I've listed. Sure, some of the services are more limited than others, but if you start getting serious or concrete interest, it will be a green light to start investing in the tools you need to connect with people.

If you start hiring staff and using paid versions of the no-code tools and apps I've listed, you could probably validate your idea for under $5000.

An MVP (minimal viable product) will cost somewhere between $15,000 and $50,000 to build, depending on complexity. An MVP marketing campaign could cost you about $5000 a month. That's a lot of money to spend on something that you aren’t sure that people even want!

You can't start making those investments until you've validated your idea. So do the work and cycle through as many ideas as possible where your only investment is time.

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Written by

Mari Luukkainen

Mari Luukkainen

Pre-seed investor, Startup growth advisor, keynote speaker, ex 15% MoM (profitable) growth startup Head of Growth.
How to validate a startup business idea with $0
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