Validating Your Product Idea with AWIT and Madrona Venture Labs

insights product women founders May 10, 2022

Credits: Thank you to our sponsors (Madrona Venture Group and Madrona Venture Labs) the AWIT Team (Emily Kruger, Bridget Hughes, Sadaf Hasan, Avi Fhima), and our speakers, Maria Hess (Partner and Head of Growth of Madrona Venture Labs) and Kristen Hamilton (SVP of Strategic Partnerships at Guild Education).

At the core of every successful business or product initiative is a solution that solves a real and meaningful customer problem. Whether you want to build your own startup or have a new idea within an established company, it’s crucial to vet these concepts before investing time and money into their creation.

On Thursday, May 6th, 2021, Advancing Women in Tech (AWIT), Madrona Venture Group, and Madrona Venture Labs hosted a conversational workshop on Validating Your Product Idea. This virtual event was led by two industry veterans, Maria and Kristen, who shared their battle-tested frameworks and personal anecdotes. Maria is an executive marketing leader, technology product builder, and startup advisor who has over 20 years of experience successfully bringing consumer and business software products to market for both big tech (Google, Amazon, and Expedia) and successful startups (Picnik, PicMonkey, and Likewise). She’s currently a Partner and Head of Growth at Madrona Venture Labs, a Seattle startup studio that builds multiple startups each year. Kristen is a technology entrepreneur and CEO with multiple exits, co-founding predictive hiring software leader Koru, which was acquired by UK-based Capfinity. She previously co-founded e-commerce pioneer Onvia and took it public on NASDAQ. She has also served as an executive for large enterprises including Microsoft, where she was head of the educator strategy, and World Learning, where she was COO. Kristen is currently the SVP of Strategic Partnerships at Guild Education, a unicorn in the education to employment space.

The event was moderated by Meg Quintero, Senior Product Manager at Rivian, and included an interactive Q&A session with the audience facilitated by Cindy Na, Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft Azure.


Maria and Kristen’s workshop is part of a series of educational events for AWIT members interested in starting or joining a technology startup, featuring best practices from industry veterans and successful entrepreneurs. The series and programming have been inspired by the Future Founders community founded by Sudip Chakrabarti, an Investing Partner at Madrona Ventures, to facilitate the exchange of ideas across Seattle-based tech and product leaders.

Maria opened with an overview of the three-phase product validation process at Madrona Ventures Labs and elaborated on the key tenets of the startup studio’s product validation framework:

  • Idea: what is the problem you’re solving, for whom, and why

  • Customer Development: how to conduct different types of research (including structured interviews, online research and listening, jobs to be done, and market-sizing research) and evaluate customer motivations and pain points

  • Competition: how to assess existing and adjacent competitors, including how to differentiate your idea and arrive at a positioning statement

  • Common Mistakes: how to avoid common mistakes in validating a product

Kristen then shared vivid stories from her rich experience as an operator and co-founder, elaborating on examples of innovation and idea validation in the real world and pitfalls she encountered along the way.

In the closing, Maria and Kristen left the audience with the following calls to action:

  • Start with the problem you’re solving and for whom

  • Deeply understand your customer’s needs and frustrations through customer development

  • Timebox your validation phase (~3–6 months is a good time frame)

  • Be aware of confirmation bias, especially if you have a personal connection to the idea

  • Invalidating a product idea gets you closer to finding the right one. Celebrate the clarity in the decision, regardless of whether you move forward with the idea or not.