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Killing your startup with a minimalist landing page startup validation

Do not validate your startup idea with a landing page unless you’ve mapped all of the traps on the journey. Share with fellow entrepreneurs.

July 13, 2021

Killing your startup with a minimalist landing page startup validation

Yes. It may be the end of your startup. And you might not even know it, or it may time, but the lean startup technique of validating a startup idea using a landing page is super dangerous.

The lean startup movement created some remarkable understandings in innovative business design and how we all think about startups.
One of the main pillars it stands on is continuously validating your ideas and striving to make your assumptions supported by real life findings as much as possible.
A common practice under the method follows the following thought process:

  1. Form an idea.
    For example: “Selling your family dinner leftovers to your neighbors.
    Families can earn some extra dough, and other community members can buy healthy food instead of fast food. Win-win. “
  2. Acknowledge the idea is just a hypothesis at this stage and that the role of a startup is to validate the hypothesis.
  3. Set up a crisp landing page
    It will include all the proper elements such as a beautiful design, great copywriting that will communicate your value proposition and a clear call to action with a signup form or even the “buy now” button.
  4. Collect potential users to show value and validate the need

We tried it in the past and failed to using this process.
Moreover, we think it may provide false signals, and we’re not using it any longer as a validation tool. It's not that we dropped landing page as a tool, but for different user cases we will explain below.

Setting goals is easier said than done

Every startup book will provide you with the following guidance

  • Test one thing at a time and make it measurable
    In this case, you can break it down to the number of visitors from each source
    And conversion rate from each source.
  • Set budget for the experiment
    You’ll need complementary skills, be their marketing, content creation, running the ads, etc.
  • Set a timeframe
    You can set a month to validate the idea

Let’s assume your budget is $500 for the experiment and the timeframe is a month; how many users would be a strong signal, and how many would be too weak?
If they didn’t actually buy but only left their email, what would you assume would be your actual conversion rate?
You need to set all these as new hypotheses you need to validate down the line.
Moreover, what is the actual worth of data based on very small numbers?

Let’s take this a step further – let’s say you’ve set the bar as ten paying users.
If you hit six, do you kill your idea?
If you got none, is that a clear indication your idea is worthless, or is it a sign that you need to repeat the experiment with some modification?
If you hit twenty, life is good, and you can scale, or should you do more experimentation? If you do more experiments, what would be a good bar to start?

There is no clear answer to any of those.
Keep track of your experiments and reviewing the results with a professional or mentor you trust to get an external reference if you’re on track.
Don't get bogged down with "I'm data oriented". In the beginning you simply won't have enough data to get a clear indication of any direction.

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Or better thought of as "traffic acquisition", i.e., the communication you can have with the user before they have seen your landing page.

Overall, any user that got into your landing page got there with one of the following sources:

  • Direct – that is, they entered the URL in their browser, have the link, or got it from somewhere, and they clicked it. Even for a huge brand, this is not a viable source for any landing page.
  • Referral – the link was embedded in some post or webpage, and the reader clicked it.
    The chances to get relevant traffic from a referral mostly depend on the distribution of the containing post. Suppose Cristiano Ronaldo is providing a link to your landing page on their Instagram page. In that case, you are guaranteed to get a lot of traffic, but posting on some social media post or Reddit group will most likely not get you any traffic. Worst, let’s assume you did manage to get your link on Ronaldo’s IG account. Is the traffic relevant to your audience in any way? What was the text on the link to your landing page? What did the user think they are getting into? All these are relevant when analyzing the results of your experiment.
  • Organic – via search engine results
    To succeed with search engine optimization, you need to be very process-oriented, diligent in your content creation efforts, and most of all, spend the time and effort to research your audience. What are they searching for? Where do they find content today? How will you grab their attention, and why would your landing page be ranked higher than the competition in the search results? To get any traffic using SEO is a long process. To get quality traffic from the relevant audience and with solid intent is even more challenging. Spending the time to reach that to validate an idea is not feasible.
  • Paid ads
    Google, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and any other small network would be more than happy to provide you with a range of tools to reach your exact audience and show them ads referring to your website. You’ll even be able to analyze them well, and using the A/B technique improves your user acquisition by lowering your cost per click. But when doing all this, what are you optimizing to? Mostly which image and copywriting get the best click results. Will those be sustainable to actual purchases once your offering is available?

The problem is that any of the above can be tuned and optimized to get more clicks and more visitors into the site, but it is hard to say if those will convert down the line.
For example, using blog distribution techniques, you got an article that discusses the power of digital tools in creating sustainability within the community to link to the landing page.
First, it would be hard to secure such a link in the first place, but even if you did, who are the article’s readers?
Are they within your target audience? If they get to your site and signup, is that a good indication of genuine interest or false signal?

Moreover, if you just set up the landing page for validation and got no traffic – is that because you had the wrong idea or failed to pull the right traffic from the right resources? It is tough to tell.
Maybe if you kept on iterating on the customer acquisition part, you would have eventually nailed it. And maybe not.

The trap is set. The prey is lured in. Gently, pull the rope.

Most landing pages are squeeze pages – the only intention to get the user to do a single activity, leave an email.
The hunting mindset is widespread when designing and reviewing user engagement within the landing page.
The assumption is that once the user was lured in, it’s time to catch them, and every lost catch is a lost opportunity.

However, if most of the traffic you acquired is from legit sources, and most users who got to your page had a reasonable idea of your offering when they entered your landing page, you should consider a partnering mindset.
Your landing page communicates the value proposition in hopes of reaching potential customers and get them engaged. To achieve user signups requires getting several elements right: the UX of the page. The design of the page. The messaging. The copywriting. If you’ve ever tried it, you know that tuning any of these takes time, skill, and effort.

Which attributes describe a good landing page experience

In the context of this article, we’ll refer to the elements that are important to your idea validation:

  • Spell to the visitors your target audience. If they are within the target audience, they’ll be more tuned for what’s coming.
    “This is for startup founder!”
  • Tell the visitor what they will gain from engaging with you
    “Structured path to idea validation and easier fundraising”
  • Tell them how you intend to deliver on that promise
    “Provide you with a SaaS tool that will help you to identify your audience and engage with them.”

How do planes navigate at night?

One of the most common problems is navigating without data.
In the case of landing page performance, it all starts with solid analytics. Google Analytics is the industry standard, and it very easy to configure.
The problem most entrepreneurs face is that it is easy to plug in google analytics to collect the data, but it is harder to make sense out of all the offered reports; what are the most critical insights for your test.
Focus on the reports related to your initial test goals, primarily for landing pages, the sources of audience acquisition, and their engagement with your page.

If you used paid ads, primarily if you used an agency to help you set it up, review the reports and correlate them with the analytics reports.

How many impressions did you get, and to what keywords? How did each group of responders behave?

To reiterate on what we've said before - don't expect substantial data in terms of volume, but if for example you only get referrals from one source, try to understand why that source worked.

Validation with a minimalist landing page is not enough

A landing page is a powerful marketing tool.
It is one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies, and you should use it as part of your arsenal.
But if you think it is the primary tool you’d use to answer the question of “how to validate your startup idea?” as part of a lean startup validation, you should be careful about it.
It can send you wrong signals, both positive or negative, and it can get you to either drop a great startup idea or get you to believe it’s time to build due to a false sense of security.

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