4 Tips to Validating Your Product With Shan-Lyn Ma, CEO and Founder of Zola

Have a product idea but not sure where to begin? In this post, we offer suggestions about what makes a good product idea, how to conduct helpful market research about your potential business, and how to present your idea for customer feedback.

Shan-Lyn Ma, CEO and Founder of Zola, an online wedding registry designed for the modern couple, recently spoke at Project Entrepreneur’s 2016 Summit. Ma is single-handedly re-inventing the wedding registry arena. Here are her four tips to ensure that your product will be successful and marketable.

1. When coming up with a business or product, find something that you already use that needs updating and make it better.

What do you use daily? What frustrates you? While Ma was brainstorming business ideas, she tried to focus on online products that she already used that could be improved. During this time, Ma had many friends getting married and therefore was spending a lot of time on various wedding registry sites. She found herself frustrated by registries that felt uninspired. They lacked the personal touch she was seeking.

2. Research your idea to extensively.

Become an expert! Once she had her idea, Ma sought to learn as much as possible about the history of the wedding registry and how to make it better. She interviewed as many couples as she could to find out what wasn’t working and how she could fix these problems through updated design and technology. Ma even went to several stores to create her own mock registry just to get firsthand experience.

Once she had figured out how she wanted to change her registry site, Ma created paper sketch mockups of what it would look like and how it would work, allowing her to quickly get feedback from users. Armed with new insight into the user experience, Ma created new prototypes and would return to her test pool, getting new reactions from the same people who reviewed the previous iterations.

During this process, Ma suggests testing your product on a variety of audiences. A range of age groups, for example, may respond very differently to your prototype.  

3. Be impartial when presenting your idea.

Try to present yourself as being impartial to your product when asking for feedback on your idea or prototype. This can be quite difficult as a founder, as you are usually the person who is most invested in your product. Get as much honest feedback as possible and don’t get carried away with pitching or forcing sales of your product. It’s key that people know they can be honest about their opinion and don’t have to be nice.

Ma decided that she would only go forward with her wedding registry idea if people organically asked when the product was going to be available. Ma explains that “Trying to be impartial and waiting for people to pull the product from you and say, ‘I really want to use this, how soon can I use this?’” is the goal.

4. Continue to gather data from users to update your product.

Ma keeps her site relevant by paying attention to what her users are doing and the brands they are excited about. For example, when customers were pulling items they wanted from a company that wasn’t listed on Zola she used that data to try and create a partnership with that brand. She also advocates offering online surveys to people who signed up for your product but ultimately did not end up using it. Asking the question “Why did you not use us?” can be extremely valuable.


Ma’s advice comes from her #PESummit workshop, “Finding Market Validation.” Listen to the entire workshop on episode 12 of our podcast. For more expert inspiration, read 3 Questions that will Optimize Your Customer Acquisition Strategy with Angela Lee, Founder of 37 Angels.