Vulnerability and Validation

By Emily Knight

If you have ever taken an entrepreneurship course or sat across from a mentor to share a new idea, you are guaranteed to have heard the word validation dozens of times.

In the innovation ecosystem, we have validation tunnel vision and the reason is pretty straightforward. Why spend thousands of dollars and months of your time building something that not enough people need, or worse, that no one cares about? Through tactful validation, you can avoid wasting time and money, but even better, you may stumble on a better version of your product or a better idea altogether.

Easy enough right? Get out and talk to 10 - 30 people to determine if they have the problem you think they do and if your solution might be the right one. As a student, you have to get out of your comfort zone and talk to strangers all the time, from classmates, professors, to community… so why, time and time again, do we find excuses to skip validation?

I am guilty of this in my own business. After 4 years of sitting through lectures, reading books, being coached, and even being a mentor to other students on methods of validation, I somehow skipped it in my own business. How could this have happened? My co-founder and I had both experienced the problem and we "knew" without a doubt that so many other people like us were feeling the same way.

In retrospect, it was obvious that we were not validating our assumptions strategically, but at the time, as new founders, the excitement of building clouded our judgement and incentivized us to built it, now.

I have a theory on why new entrepreneurs avoid validation with such ferocity even when our day jobs are built on this method (sheepishly puts up guilty hand).

Building a business from an idea to something real is pretty darn fun. When I say fun I 100% do not mean easy, but seeing our ideas turn into a tangible thing in the world, whether that thing is a website, fancy business cards or an actual product makes us feel like we are kids again. Validation threatens to slow, and possibly halt all of this fun, fun that is being made possible by our brilliant idea. We are emotional beings and if validation pokes holes in our brilliance and takes away our fun you better believe that we are going to instinctively avoid those negative emotions at all costs.

So how can we get more comfortable with the risk that when we go out into the world with our precious idea that someone might tell us it sucks or that we might find some information that turns our excitement into smoke and mirrors? This is where things get vulnerable. To validate we must first admit that our ideas might suck. We are forced to admit that we don't know what "people like us" what without asking them and that we can't assume people are willing to part with their hard earned money for our thing. We have to admit that we don't know it all, and that likely, we know very little. We have to be humble. We have to listen and be genuinely curious about real people's problems.

Laura Klein does an outstanding job of describing the importance of validation in a talk she gave at The Lean Startup Conference in 2014. She provides tools to identify and validate your riskiest assumptions and makes it easy for you to realize that whether you like it or not, you have to validate those assumptions. It is an outstanding lecture that I highly recommend. As you watch, watch yourself as well. Watch out for your ego saying, "my ideas aren't that stupid" or your emotions saying, "what if customers tell me they hate it?". Remember to be humble, to be resilient, and to always, always validate.