Students of the lean startup methodology raised an eyebrow as they read the headline. Validation is an important part of running lean. You should only build your startup if you know your idea is a valuable solution to your customer’s problem. That can only come through validation. So, how could validating your startup idea be “doing it wrong?”

Premature Ideation

The validation is not the problem; it’s when the validation happens. As founders, we’re pretty fond of ourselves. We need to be in order to make it through the tough times. We have to be confident and self-assured. When it comes to validation, those are exactly the traits that can cause us to move forward with misplaced optimism and end up building a product no one wants to pay for. We fall in love with our idea and, rather than trying to disprove our assumptions, we use the validation process to try to prove we were right all along. This phenomenon is called confirmation bias.

This is why our order of operation is important. Remember order of operation from math class? If you have an expression like this one:

2 + 3 × (9 − 4)

correctly applying the order of operation is the difference in evaluating it to 41 instead of the correct evaluation of 17. That’s a pretty big error. When you make that with your startup, it might cost you a lot of money building something you can’t sell.

What Comes First?

Instead of spending time developing an idea and trying to go back and validate it, wouldn’t it be nice to start with a valid idea? That’s why you should develop your idea during customer development. Instead of starting with the idea you want to build or even the problem you want to solve, go all the way back to the customer you want to serve.

Once you’ve found your customer, talk to them about the problems they have and how they currently solve them. Once you’ve got these juicy tidbits, you know a great deal about the business you should build. You can select a problem, build a solution around improving the existing system they use to solve it… you might even have an idea of the value of this solution to your customers which will help you understand how to price it later (and how much you can spend building it now).

This Beats Guesswork

The romantic dream of pulling the perfect idea out of the air, building it, and raking in millions is just that: a dream. Even the strategy of coming up with an idea before comparing notes with your customers gets it backwards. Take a shortcut and start with your customer. Your startup becomes a failed startup if it doesn’t meet their needs. Work with them to develop the idea, and you’ll short circuit all the guesswork and wasted resources to start working on a great solution from the get-go.