Before you spend the many hours it requires to create a new product you are going to want to test your business idea. If it does not test well then you might not want to move forward and save yourself a lot of time, money, and effort.

We are going to look at two methods you can use for testing your business idea: interviews and presales.

Customer Interviews

Steve Jobs famously said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” Most of us are not Steve Jobs and by the time he said that he was already very successful and could afford to have a product that fails. The rest of us want to give ourselves every chance at being successful and that means getting out and talking to our future customers.

Set a goal of talking to at least twenty-five (but fifty or a hundred would be better) of your ideal customers before doing any product development. Importantly these should be strangers rather than your friends or family as strangers will be honest with you while your friends and family are inclined to like your ideas and will not be completely truthful with you if they do not to shield your feelings.

When doing the interview tell them up-front that the product is not available yet and that you are just looking for their opinions. You want to start by asking them questions about the industry to find out how knowledgeable they are about it. Then present them with the idea for your product and find out what then think. Ideally you have a few ideas about variations on the product and you can ask them about each of those as well. Take notes (and you can ask them to pause while you write something down) so that you can review them later and make sure you are remembering their responses correctly.

The feedback you get will help you design your product to make sure it is addressing your customers’ real problems and needs.

Presales as a Test

Even better than asking people what they think about your product idea is asking them to pay for it. If you can get that to happen then you know you are onto a great idea.

From a product validation standpoint, you do not actually need to get their info and charge them. Just note the number of people willing to pay today and write down the contact information for each. These will be your first customers. However, you can ask them for payment today and use these presales to fund your product development.

You can start by concluding your interviews by asking the question, “would you be interested in pre-ordering my product? I will give you a discount for being an early buyer.”

Another method is to put up a credit card form but do not actually charge cards. Send an email to the customer instead saying that the product is not available yet but that you will contact them when it is and ask if they would like to continue with the order. Offer them a discount as well for having to wait for the product to be delivered.

PS- Remember that your first customers are your early adopters and if they are happy will become your brand evangelists and be the start of your word-of-mouth advertising.