By Carla Ruiz Entrecanales, Lead Business & Service Designer at Kamet Ventures

Henry Ford once said that if he’d asked people to tell him what they wanted, they’d just say they wanted faster horses. In any conversation, it’s simply not enough to just listen to what someone says, you need to read between the lines to pick up on and truly understand what they really mean. The same wisdom holds true on the long road to creating a good product.

As venture builders, we are tasked with creating companies and ideas that will help people live more healthy, stress-free, and enjoyable lives. So you can imagine that we are never short of ideas on the many pain points that need addressing in our healthcare systems, institutions, and public services.

But the reality is, to go from the ideation phase to creating a business that serves an important purpose takes time and most importantly, learning to read between the lines to gage what people truly need rather than what they might think they need.

We call this exercise The Validation Process.

Looking for Validation

It’s a well known truism that building a start-up is no easy feat and perhaps that’s why a mind boggling 90% of them fail in the process. In order to increase our chances of success at Kamet we go through an exhaustive validation process. This has allowed us to launch 23 ventures in the past five years across a wide variety of sectors — from agetech, to femtech, cancer diagnostics and many others.

The validation process that helps us de-risk the launch of a new startup starts by exploring the needs of your potential customers, testing the product with your target audience and several rounds of iteration. Some people may find this process grueling and challenging but I see it a bit like training for a marathon. Sticking to your fitness plan (or in our world, every step of the validation journey) is one of the only ways to guarantee you’ll cross the finish line on the big day.

Validation requires the design team to embed itself in 5 key questions:

  1. Is the market big enough? — we are looking for solutions that solve problems that affect a wide base for them to be commercially viable, but also so we are dedicating our time to doing the most good for the greatest number of people.
  2. Is there a problem that users want solved? — there is no point in creating a solution to minor problems that people can easily workaround.
  3. Can we create a disruptive solution? — we need a novel approach to the solution that brings enough value to make the user engage with it over other solutions.
  4. Is our solution scalable and is there willingness to pay? — can we find a way of monetizing our solution? Is it possible to use the same solution to solve other problems or address new markets so the business has a clear path to growth?
  5. Is it defensible? — e.g. is it possible to stop others from copying the idea by protecting the intellectual property?

If the answer to all of those questions is yes, then we know that we have a winner on our hands. We might go in with a specific idea in mind, but after trying to answer these questions and going through many iterations, we could very well end up with a solution to an entirely different problem.

Identifying the pain you’re trying to solve

Customers’ needs are always top of mind, so for any new idea, we start with the exploration phase where we understand the potential user of the product or service we’re designing for. We analyse things such as their needs, their pains, how they make decisions, and most importantly the job they are trying to get done. It’s through this process that our team can identify problems that we think are big and interesting enough for us to solve.

At the earliest stages, we conduct qualitative interviews to get an initial sense of what the customer’s pains, needs, and job-to-be-done are that might be worth trying to solve. It’s here where you need to read between the lines so you don’t only hear what they say they want, but really try to understand what they need. We also have to be prepared to drop any assumptions we came in with, even if it proves us “wrong”, with the hopes of finding a more appealing solution or a bigger problem to solve.

Finding the ideal solution

Once we have identified there is a problem that is worth solving, we leverage our multidisciplinary team (tech, strategy, and design) and industry experts to co-create and come up with as many disruptive ideas as possible. This process allows us to come up with optimal solutions that have considered and explored the idea from every possible angle.

Testing your solutions

When we feel that we have something interesting to play with, we create parts of what the actual service might be and put it in front of people, whether it’s through Google or Facebook ads, landing pages, or even in-person interviews to showcase the experience and to gauge their appetite.

Views on a product can also vary wildly within a sample group, as there will always be a conflict between “early adopters” and those that are more sceptical to new approaches. The initial reaction of a small sample group remains an invaluable indicator for the team because if they have concerns with a product, it is likely a wider audience will as well, and we’ll just have to find creative ways of addressing them.

Through this process, we are constantly learning new things about our users, the market, and our solution, and iterating accordingly until we land a valuable and sustainable solution that we trust will disrupt people’s lives.

Understanding when it’s time to move on

It is incredibly rare that the initial idea we have when we go into the validation phase is the same one we are left with when we come out. Usually, the idea pivots not once, but often several times. A good example of this from our portfolio is Poncho, which is today an incredibly successful childcare platform for working parents. Our team went through around 20 different concepts while trying to figure out exactly what the service would look and feel like. But going through all of this means that the ultimate idea is much stronger and more likely to have a true impact, just as Poncho does.

However, even with frequent pivoting we inevitably find ourselves occasionally hitting walls that are insurmountable, meaning we have to kill the kidea. Reasons for this can range from not being able to develop a good enough solution, to not finding something that’s different enough. Money and politics can also play a role here because if the product doesn’t have a chance at being profitable, or legislation in a particular country limits how it can operate, it won’t be a viable solution to progress with.

Just like pivoting, there is no shame in killing an idea. One of the best qualities a designer can have is the ability to accept early on that it is more than likely that the initial idea is not going to be the final one, and that is what defines the creative process. Creating a service that’s valuable for the target audience is the endgame, so if that can’t be achieved, then it’s time to move on.

How to know when it’s going right

With ideas and iterations of products changing so often, finding something that lands with an audience is one of the most rewarding feelings. To see that the service is delivering and performing well above any other iterations, whether it’s due to a high conversion rate or higher numbers of people trying to schedule appointments with our team during the testing phase, helps us validate the idea and know we have found something that users see value in.

Validation is the ultimate goal, and in the end, it comes down to figuring out exactly what the customer needs. It’s a challenging process that often takes many twists and turns, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, there are no shortcuts to designing a valuable service and creating a product that will have a true impact on people’s everyday lives.