How ‘fake door’ product testing could save your startup time and money

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Determining consumer appetite for a product or service can be a delicate balancing act, as startups seek to glean information and shape their offering before dedicating valuable resources to its development and release.

While most startup founders will be familiar with the process of developing a minimum viable product (MVP), Dennis Nerush, a team lead at Sears Isreal, says the “fake door” approach to product testing could be a valuable precursor to a startup’s MVP.

In a blog post on Medium, Nerush says while building MVPs is “very nice in theory”, the reality of the process still “requires time, effort and usually R&D resources”.

“Small as it can be, we don’t want to waste our effort on a false assumption,” he said.

This is where the concept of the ‘fake door’ comes into play as an alternative initial approach.

Building a fake door

In most cases, Nerush says a startup’s MVP will be based on a set of initial assumptions, but whether these assumptions are right can only be tested once the MVP is ready. If they are wrong, considerable time and money has already been spent.

As an alternative, he highlights the techniques employed by social media platform provider Buffer in seeking to determine consumer appetite for its service, first by offering a free product and then attempting to introduce a pricing schedule.

“Instead of developing all the ‘minimal requirements’ from the start, they decided to validate their assumptions one by one without actually delivering value to users,” Nerush wrote.

“They moved using the smallest possible test at a time.”

Buffer, he explained, created a landing page with a “Plans and Prices” button, which did not, however, lead to any plans or prices. Instead it took users to a page that indicated the plans were not yet ready, but gave users the option to enter their email address to be sent a reminder once they were.

Regardless of whether the user leaves their email, Nerush observed that what matters is “that someone clicked on the button and showed intent to learn more about the plans”.

Buffer then moved to a second test, providing pricing plan options, to determine what users would be prepared to pay for different plan structures. Again, once the button was clicked it led to a page indicating that the service was not yet ready.

While the users do not derive value from the approach, Nerush said “it provides huge knowledge to the company that validates our assumption in a super-fast and cheap way”.

“The most important role of an MVP is to let us as a company learn about what our users want,” he said.

“MVPs should provide value to our users, but it is a secondary priority. It should provide value only after we make sure they are actually interested in that value.”

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