Many startups fail from the get go by assuming "build it and they will come". Smoke testing instead is the first step in iteratively building something, by testing product assumptions even before the product is actually ready or even started. It is the best way to #juststart, testing assumptions and hypotheses, de-risking your model. Improve and do this as many times needed to come up with a product that you know is going to change your customer benefits for the better.
A smoke test is a marketing technique in which a group of customers, usually the early adoptors, are given the opportunity to try your product and give feedback. It prevents building a product that your customers don’t want. The question here is: “if I would offer this product, would you buy it?” A smoke test begins by measuring one thing: whether customers are interested in trying a product. By itself, it is insufficient to validate an entire growth model. Nonetheless, it can be of very useful to get feedback on assumptions by measuring two things:
Cohort analysis. This is one of the most important tools of startup analytics. Although it sounds complex, it is based on a simple premise, "the behaviour and performance of groups of users related by common attributes" - a measurement now part of Google Analytics. Instead of looking at cumulative totals or gross numbers such as total revenue and total number of customers, one looks at the performance of each group of customers that comes into contact with the product independently. Each group is called a cohort. Every company depends for its survival on sequences of customer behaviour called flows. Customer flows govern the interaction of customers with a company’s products. They allow us to understand a business quantitatively and have much more predictive power than traditional gross metrics. The sign of a successful pivot: the new experiments you run are overall more productive than the experiments you were running before.
Start bringing your ideas to life. So the minimum viable product is not a full-blown product but rather a strategy that builds on smoke-testing to build a product in stages - think Jason Fried's "better to have a kick-ass half, than half-assed whole". This staged approach accelerates the learning process. It means testing the strength of an idea, get feedback, learn, iterate and test again. It allows you to build an audience in the process and generate awareness for your business. Continue to smoke test your product as an opportunity to show people what your advantages and benefits are all about. Don’t be afraid to show your flaws, you will be surprised what you may find. Ask your audience what they would like to see, engage them in your idea or product and build on that. This is innovation.
So why should you care? Because it is a perfect opportunity to start doing what you love. Don’t wait until you have ‘the perfect product’. Why wait? Just start.