Market research · Idea validation

Customer development and market research

Michael Savoie

February 14th, 2014

What are some of the better methods/tactics for customer development and market research to validate my hardware idea?  I'm looking to get out and talk to people but not sure what are the better places and where I wouldn't get kicked out of.   I'm not quite sure if doing/paying for a Mechanical Turk or web type survey will get me enough to validate. 

Douglas Ross Marketing Expert - Strategy - Implementation - Results

February 14th, 2014

Assuming you've narrowed down who your target customers are, there is nothing better that I know of than getting direct time in front of them.  Creating a brief discussion flow doc may be helpful along with a a simple way to demo your product/prototype/concept.   Having two people from your side can also help so one person can engage fully with your prospective customer and the other can observe and take notes.   One place to find people is at meet-ups (see  If they are a tight group (tribe), ask a member where they hangout physically or on-line and the best way to reach them for this type of validation.  You may want to provide them a quid pro quo for their time such as sharing new tech trends relevant to their field or similar.   I personally have not had great success with Mechanical Turk ( problem was finding people that were part of the tribe I was going after).  

Chris Morrison

February 14th, 2014

The gold standard for early customer and market development is Steve Blank's book, "Four Steps to the Epiphany".  It is very detail, sometimes overly regimented, but never-the-less dead on.

Gaurav Chawla Founder

February 14th, 2014

Michael, Make a design/video and try selling it using If people pay, you have direct customer validation. Or, just create a video of what you are selling, create a landing page and advertise using an Adwords campaign. Both ways you should be able to guage interest. First one is even better IMO. I have tried the second, but am in the process of trying the first step myself.  If the idea is patentable make sure you have a provisional patent first to protect your invention assuming it's something new. Cheers!

Anand Ramachandran Founder & CEO at IdeaGPS

February 14th, 2014

Hi Michael,

  Steve Blank's book is a good start, though it tends to be a bit more relevant to software companies.  You'll have to take the lessons there and abstract it out for your hardware play. 

  In general, I like to think of validation more as a risk reduction game.  It's not pass/fail.  It's a question of 'how valid?' and 'to whom?'.  You're not only trying to get approval for what you currently have, but also discover what else you might be missing that could hint at a future opportunity or competitive risk.  In the early going.

  I identify and catalog the potential risks and uncertainties, decompose them as much as possible, and then look for the best methods to resolve each one.  It may take multiple methods to convince yourself that some aspect of your concept is indeed valid.

My 2 c...


Paul Ruderman

February 14th, 2014

Hi Michael,
I did a HUGE round of customer dev and market research before launching UpdateZen a couple months ago, and I just wrote about it here.
Among the many things that worked for me was using a service called to reach out to and speak with totally objective people who fit my target market/user profile... people who I didn't know personally, and who didn't know me. It was invaluable guidance.
Best of luck,

Rick Nguyen Cofounder @ Spot Trender

February 14th, 2014

Michael, I found that Linkedin and your network are particularly useful. Research people who have the expertise and/or budget to buy what you're offering. Send inmail or cold call, whatever you're more comfortable. This script below worked for me:
-Hi my name is ____. I did some research on experts of the field X, and your name came up. I'm really impressed by your experience and I would love to ask you some question. Do you have a minute?

Make sure your prepare your questions in advanced. Don't waste their time and be super nice/humble. They'll respond.

Raghu Ranjolkar Strategy & Marketing Consultant

August 27th, 2018

Hi there, am sorry to break in here, but could not hold the temptation. My suggestion is to go in for marketing research rather than market research.

Have you ever wondered about the difference between Market Research and Marketing Research?The terms are often confusing because they are similar in nature.

They both are also an integral part of marketing, which means that they both occur before the sale of the product or service. Nevertheless, in technicality, market research is a subset of marketing research.

Market research is when you have narrowed down a specific "target, " and you are delving into the behaviour of that target. In other words, its research into a very narrow group of consumers. Market research is used to collect the information about the market, such as consumers’ needs, preferences, interests, market trends, latest fashion and so on.

Marketing Research has a much larger scope as it deals with conducting research about the product, as well as consumer preferences; whereas, market research just deals with collecting the information about the market.

To launch a successful business, it is highly imperative to advertise your services/products to the right group of people with the right message. The marketing strategy sets guidelines for actions your business will take to get its information out to your target customers. Before you spend big bucks on a campaign, you will need to make sure the approach is appropriate. This is known as marketing research. Market research should not be confused with marketing research, which is the scientific and objective study of the overall marketing process which involves collection, analysis, communication and utilization of information, so as to help the management in the process of decision making and also resolving marketing problems.

Though they have different purposes, both provide opportunities for asking questions, finding answers and using those answers to be a better marketer. Because Market Research is a subset of Marketing Research, it is easy to see why the two terms are often confused. They are both related to each other in great extent and are widely practiced.


February 14th, 2014

I like trying to get people to buy your thing.  If you ask people if they like it or if they might buy it, a lot of people will say yes to be nice to you.

Pretend the product is real, and try to sell it.  Either at a street fair, or online with some google adwords.

Then refund people their money who purchase / tell them that it isn't ready yet / and then notify it when it is ready.

Rob G

February 14th, 2014


I would (and did) second Douglas' suggestions. i would not rely on Mech turk or a web survey. Later on if you are trying to tweak features or priorities them perhaps a web survey can get you a broader dataset, but not yet.  Presumably your HW device solves a problem.  Identify the types of people that have the problem you solve and go talk to them. Face to face is preferred and as Douglas said, having at least one more set of eyes and ears on your team is invaluable - one of you needs to focus on presenting & listening and the other only on listening and taking notes and its often hard to do both at once.  Your profile says you might be looking at robotic snow removal. sounds challenging, especially in a B2C model. 

Nick LaFond Investor | Entrepreneur | Startup Advisor

February 14th, 2014

You need to connect with your target market on their terms.  Show them your valuable product and see how the react.  If you need to collect data faster and from different markets, hire some students in areas that you don't reach. Leverage social media and get your network to pass your requests on to people THEY know. JM.02