VITA-VALIDATION: How to health check a business for market success
Published on 02 July 2020
FITTER. HAPPIER. MORE PRODUCTIVE.
The premise behind Aydan Zebib’s start-up business is to help people feel healthier, more energised and more focused. He achieves this by taking a scientific and evidence-based approach to personalising a customer’s vitamins and nutrition; producing a personalised vitamin drink all in real time without using blood samples.
The young entrepreneur says the device at the heart of MyVi is best described as the love child of a Nespresso coffee machine, an inkjet printer and vitamins.
He says the concept was inspired by his sister who consumed several vitamins a day, without really understanding the cost and benefits.
“You see a doctor about taking certain medication, but no one really goes to a doctor or a dietician to know what vitamins they should take.
“My sister admitted to taking multiple vitamins because the packaging said it's good for your hair, skin, nails and complexion.
“I got it in my head that no one really cares about what vitamins they're taking. They are like medicine, they are in the same aisle at the supermarket, but no one really treats them like medicine. People just take them whenever they want,” Aydan admits.
Studying a Bachelor of Biotechnology specialising in the medical field, Aydan’s studies covered personalised medicine which sparked an interest in personalising nutrition.
From there he started thinking about personalising vitamins, later pitching the idea to his university’s biotechnology cohort as part of his studies.
“Everyone loved it. That was my first little bit of validation, everyone just saying, "Oh, that's a really cool idea." So, that was where it started, he recalls.
THE WORLD IS MOVING TO PERSONALISATION
Aydan then took his concept to his university start-up fraternity (UTS Start-ups) who agreed it sounded like a worthy concept.
“The idea was to solve the problem caused by the fact that a lot of people's nutrition, was not necessarily giving them everything their body needs.
“What MyVi does is test your vitamin levels without a blood test and based on the results, the device makes the supplement in a drink for you in your own home.
“The machine creates the concoction of vitamins you should take to know you're perfectly balanced,” Aydan explains.
Focussing on his studies as a priority, MyVi was relegated to side-project territory, with Aydan working on it during weekends. Ongoing encouragement from his peers to make something of it finally shifted his mindset.
“I decided MyVi was not just the side project I'm going to do on the weekend, it should be something I'm working on every single day,” Aydan recounts.
Seeking guidance from UTS Start-ups as to his first steps, Aydan was advised to validate his product.
“I literally walked around campus with a pen and a clipboard. I captured fellow students’ name and a yes or a no if they were interested, and whether they were a boy or a girl. I did not really care about their age at the time.
“I would tell them I have a pen that can measure your vitamin levels in real time and it doesn't take any blood. It takes a minute. Do you want to see it?"
“I'd pull out a pen and just say, "Look, I do not have it yet, but I just wanted to see if you guys would be interested. Would it be something that you would actually be interested in?" And they said, "Yeah, actually I would,” Aydan reflects.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR CUSTOMER
For Aydan, validation is best described as how you can understand if someone is willing to pay for your product and use your product.
Knowing people wanted to know what their vitamin levels were, Aydan now needed to test how many people actually wanted to buy vitamins.
This became the next step in the validation process.
“At the time I was a uni student, I took vitamins, and I just assumed everyone was like me. So, my next step was understanding how many university students took vitamins, because that was my main target at the very start.
“You are never really your customer. Whenever I think of something cool, I ask myself if my customer persona will find it cool as well?" Aydan advises.
Discovering not many university students took vitamins, Aydan began looking to new markets; asking his friends to question their parents about their vitamin consumption habits.
Rather than focusing on the students, Aydan began concentrating on their parents who admitted to taking vitamins more than students did.
“Most of them took a fair amount of vitamins. I had one parent who was spending $110 a month and another one that was spending about $75 a month.
“Once I saw people were spending a ridiculous amount on vitamins, I questioned whether I could I make that cheaper and asked whether people would switch their current vitamin routine if they only paid $50 a month as opposed to $110? Aydan queried.
PUTTING THE PERSON IN PERSONALISATION
Focusing on personalisation and cost benefit, Aydan set to create a semi-tangible product to test if people who said they were interested in the product, would pay for it.
“At the moment it's easy to say yes. It is easy to place a pre-order for zero dollars. It is easy to like a Facebook post. But imagine it was $1 to like a Facebook post. I think we would be a bit more cautious of what we are liking.
“It was only at the Turbo-Traction Lab, when our mentor said, "If you can get someone to pay $1, that's a lot better than them saying they would pay $300," because to actually secure that money is one of the biggest things,” Aydan explains.
He created a simple, imperfect landing page to tell customers MyVi is a personalised vitamin drink, where they can order it and explain how it works.
Aydan soon realised he had not communicated the benefits of trying MyVi, nor showcase the value of using the product. Poor image choices did not help either.
“When I sent the landing page link to my contacts, a lot of the people who pre-ordered already really liked the product and knew the benefits.
“For those who did not really know what they would gain out of using it, they didn't pre-order. They would ask me, "So what do I need to do? How often do I need to pay for things? Is it just a one-time payment?" And a lot of those answers, weren’t communicated well, Aydan reflects.
He is now redesigning the landing page to explain how energised and focused users will feel, the health benefits and how MyVi incorporates nutrition.
“I didn't really consider why people were taking vitamins, rather than they were just spending a lot of money on them.
“One of the main lessons I try to use is the, "Ready, Fire, Aim method. I could have spent three months perfecting a landing page, designing every minute detail. But instead, I got something up that took me four or five hours just to make.
“I sent the link to all my previous customers and we achieved 22 pre-orders from just over 100 customers,” he says.
PROTOTYPING TO KICKSTART
With twenty-something pre-orders under his belt, has the validation for MyVi stopped?
Aydan says he is now simultaneously prototyping and developing MyVi, ready to showcase to more customers.
“Once people see something tangible, something that is working, they are more convinced. Trying to persuade people to put something inside their bodies, in this case vitamins, you need to instil a sense of comfort and confidence, or else people won't take it or engage with it,” Aydan rationalises.
From there, if MyVi generates enough pre-orders Aydan says he will move forward with a Kickstarter campaign to bring the project to life.
“One of the things about validation is it's always good to keep on validating because the market is always changing, especially now.
“I wouldn't put all of your efforts into validation 100% of the time or else you won't make any progress with product development or customer capturing, but definitely once you do send something out, like my landing page, it's about a 20% conversion rate if you look at my previous customers.
“I created the first landing page, shipped it off, got the numbers, I said, let's reposition, let's pivot a little bit and then we'll fire again and then see what happens."
You come up with something, you test it. If it does not work, you change it and then test it again. It's what we do in the science lab, so it's what I try to do in my business as well,” he proposes.
SmartHub Business Manager Elize Hattin explains when you undertake validation, it can be easy to convince yourself that you are right.
“You can negate or be wilfully blind to any evidence in the contrary.
“To be brutally honest about what is working and what is not and to be brutally honest and brutally open to get the feedback from your market is vital for authentic validation,” she advises.
Aydan admits he prefers getting criticised about something than being praised.
“One of the important things as well, when you're receiving feedback, is actually who you're receiving feedback from.
“If you are receiving feedback from friends, just know 99% of the time they'll sugar-coat it. Equally, if you are receiving feedback from someone that is not in your target market, just know that if they do like it, it might not be a good thing. Or it might be a great thing that they do like it.
“You should always try to keep in mind that, cool, if someone doesn't like it, there were also 100 other people that did like it.
“It’s about finding the people that do like your product, asking them the questions and then getting their actual feedback that's going to be constructive,” Aydan maintains.
MIRO IMAGE OF MyVi PERSONAS
Being a visual person, Aydan says one of his favourite productivity apps he uses for MyVi is visual collaboration software, Miro.
Miro is a scalable, secure, cross-device and enterprise-ready team collaboration whiteboard for distributed teams.
“Miro's really cool for making things look pretty. If something looks boring, I will not put effort into it. If it looks nice, I will put 20 times the amount of effort.
Aydan explains how he used Miro to develop the different customer personas or avatars for MyVi.
“I have written customer's goals, what they do to achieve those goals and then how we can be involved.
“Avatar ‘Margaret’ was one of my first ever customers. Margaret is a friend's mother who was spending over $100 a month on vitamins.
“I looked at where she purchased from, and found she got that from a Google search and the way she did that was she would just buy the best vitamins that she could online.
“Why? Because she wants to be healthier to prevent getting sick at an older age.
“That's where we came in and said if we can get involved here by having a sponsored Google Ad for people buying the best vitamins online, maybe that's where we can capture our customer.
Aydan explains he repeated the same process in Miro with different personas, such as ‘Ian’ who tries to align his macros and micros.
“He'd get regular blood tests and he'd track his food using an app. We thought we could introduce another Google ad but for a micronutrient tracker because now, his only way of tracking his micronutrients was through a blood test which are intrusive, time-consuming, expensive and painful.
HEALTHY, WEALTHY & WISE
Despite a few development delays, MyVi should be available to purchase in June 2021.
Aydan admits this will depend on securing 1,000 pre-orders. To expediate this, he is busily redesigning the MyVi landing page and social media prepping.
“One thing I learned in Turbo-Traction Lab was every decision that you make should be to achieve a specific goal. My goal for the social media posting is to get people on our website, so every single post must encourage people to visit the landing page, directly purchase a unit or place a pre-order,” he explains.
Elize agrees, saying that is what makes the SmartHub so valuable to young entrepreneurs like Aydan.
“There's a community of people who are on the same journey as you are and they can really relate to whatever challenges that you go through, they would have gone through or will be going through at some point.
“This is what is really great about being part of an innovation ecosystem or a community like the Smart Hub,” she reflects.
While at 21 years old, Aydan describes himself as a baby compared to everyone else in this industry, he does offer words of wisdom to all start-ups, starting out.
“At the end of the day, there's no point being nervous. If you are not a confident person in general, know people are going to respect you anyway, just for getting out there and trying to sell yourself and trying to help others.
“If you are trying to help people who need it, I think no one's going to knock you down.
“As long as your start-up is kind of helping people, then there's honestly no reason why you shouldn't make a Facebook post, make an Instagram page, just direct message a bunch of people, go find some news articles, message the author and just reach out … there's no harm in reaching out to anyone.
“I think you've already lost if you haven't taken your first step,” he encourages.
Aydan Zebib is Turbo-traction lab alumni and the founder of MyVi.
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