Fake Door Testing

You have an idea for a new product or service. But how do you know if people will want to buy it – before you build it?

A few months ago, I saw a notice on my Firefox browser:

“Click here to join the ‘No More Ads Revolution’ – for less than $3/month, you’ll get universal ad blocking and privacy, even while using major websites like Google and Facebook”.


But there was no such program, just an explanation that they were thinking of creating it – and would you like to signup for a pre-launch notification list?

But this test – called a “fake door test” in UX and digital marketing – apparently bore fruit. Firefox turned the fake door into a beta-project collaboration with a company called Scroll. Maybe this helped them get their pricing down (though it’s still flawed because it doesn’t offer options((It is essential to offer price options, as superbly explained in Pricing Creativity, chapter 6: Offer Options – read it!)).)

That’s easier when you have a product already used by millions – you have your own free mass-market advertising channel.

It’s harder for us. Fake door tests and other types of automated A/B testing aren’t worth the effort unless there’s a pretty substantial data. 30 is a statistically significant sample size when the data is good. 

Most of our marketing activities don’t supply enough quality data. That’s why I disabled web traffic analytics last year. Outreach email marketing is an exception. If you carefully select about 40 prospective targets, you might get 30 worthwhile data points (you lose 10 because some emails didn’t work, or some people aren’t who you thought they were – the process sharpens your perception). Pick another 40 and you can test one subject line against another.

Let’s set aside bulk email outreach, though, because there’s a better hack: the “smallest viable market”.

In This Is Marketing, Seth Godin offers a minimalist, bootstrapper slant on the customer-development theory of Silicon Valley pioneer and “lean startup” theorist Steve Blank:

Organize your project, your life, and your organization around the minimum. What’s the smallest market you can survive on?

Customer development is the act of gaining traction with customers, of finding a fit between what you make and what they want. This traction is worth far more than fancy technology and expensive marketing.

Ok? How. Tim Ferris says you can spend $500 on Google Ads ((In the hilariously titled The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, Ferris used the example of an entrepreneur testing an idea for a drop shipping business with $500 in Google Ads spend. This isn’t a bad approach today, but it’s more of a $5,000 matter, not a $500 one)). Maybe in 2004 – in 2020, not so much (sorry to hedge, but it really depends here). Firefox uses a product with massive reach. Silicon Valley startups use VC money. 

But most of us don’t have a multi-million dollar ad budget or our own web browser – so now let’s go back to email outreach, the most cost-effective way to do your own fake door test. It’s more precise than Survey Monkey or – and this is really scraping the bottom of the barrel – Google Surveys. Find 80 people you think might be interested in what you make, then find out if they want it.

Take action. My explanation above skips steps 1 through 100 because this isn’t the right venue. But later in this month, I’ll be co-hosting a free, 60-minute webinar on testing it before you make it. We’ll show you how we use prospecting, email outreach, and webpages to create and execute a minimum viable fake door test.

So it’ll be kind of like a Zoom-based carpentry class, except you won’t need any tools – just a good project idea and a theoretical smallest viable market.

Kindly yours,