Mar 31, 2016

Don't worry, I 'validated' it

Hearing the phrase, “I validated it” gives me regret.

It makes me want to go back in time, when I started Leancamp, find myself on the streets of London, throw my younger self to the pavement in a dark Camden alley, and step on my face with a trendy leather army boot.

I’ll be amazed to see my future self, standing there.

My future self will not care. My future self will be all business. My future self will lift his foot off my cheek and cross his arms. Future Me, with his practical short haircut, will explain how annoying it is to have to go back in time to save so many failed startups, all because the term ‘validation’ got mixed up.

Let me explain why saying “I validated this” hurts your credibility.

Nowadays, “I validated that” is a meaningless phrase. It hides the actual evidence, the actual validation, behind a buzzword.

That means to an investor at a pitch day, it’s worse than meaningless. It’s damaging.

If someone uses that phrase, it usually means the opposite. In most cases, people saying ‘validation’ means they spoke to some potential customers who said it was a good idea. In others, it means they built a landing page and got some email sign ups. Or they gave a potential customer a list of 10 features that they’d never use and said, choose your favourite three.

These things are not validation.

Rarely does ‘validation’ mean a potential customer made a real commitment.

Rarely does ‘validation’ mean money exchanged hands.

Rarely does ‘validation’ mean some form of marketing was established, or a product was used.

Communicating learning

If you’re truly validating something, then say what it was. (Hint: it’s not your whole business model.) And rather than say ‘validated’, say what you mean. It’s so much more helpful to you and the people listening.

“We spoke to 20 freelance graphic designers, and learned that 8 of them actively try new workflow ideas every month or so.”

“We set up Facebook events in a bunch of different cities, and Lyon, Munich and Vienna got more than 500 RSVPs each.”

“We shared beta access with a hundred brand managers, and a month later 60% were still using it every week.”

“We got an order.”

“A distributor agreed to add our product to their newsletter next month.”

“A procurement manager we spoke to was so excited, they’ve started the process of getting us on their supplier list.”

The people who get real validation, they never say ‘validation,’ they say what they learned and how they learned it. They talk about real commitment from customers, and they think in terms of evidence.

They’re really asking, “is this a good idea?”

What validation really means

The whole point of the validation concept in Lean Startup methodology is to learn now what will be costly to learn later. It’s to learn if your idea won’t work now, before you go too far down that road.

Most people treat it like a check-box though - to “get validation.” They look for anything that could confirm their belief that they’re on the right track and plod on naively.

Try thinking like a scientist, in terms of invalidation. What should I try so a possible result will cause me to stop or change course?

Please do yourself a favour. Stop thinking about “validation.” That’s good way to give yourself regrets. Instead, think in terms of evidence and invalidation.

It’s like building yourself a time machine, only less work.

If this sounds familiar, I’d love to hear from you on the new Source Community. Read more and discuss here.

What am I up to these days?

I’m a new parent, and prioritising my attention on our new rhythms as a family. I’m also having fun with slow creative pursuits: making a few apps, writing, etc.

Work-wise, I’m trekking along at a cozy pace, with a few non-exec, advisory roles for cryptography and microchip manufacturing programs.

In the past, I've designed peer-learning programs for Oxford, UCL, Techstars, Microsoft Ventures, The Royal Academy Of Engineering, and Kernel, careering from startups to humanitech and engineering. I also played a role in starting the Lean Startup methodology, and the European startup ecosystem. You can read about this here.

Contact me

Books & collected practices

  • Peer Learning Is - a broad look at peer learning around the world, and how to design peer learning to outperform traditional education
  • Mentor Impact - researched the practices used by the startup mentors that really make a difference
  • DAOistry - practices and mindsets that work in blockchain communities
  • Decision Hacks - early-stage startup decisions distilled
  • Source Institute - skunkworks I founded with open peer learning formats and ops guides, and our internal guide on decentralised teams