Building a product is no easy task. It’ll take months of planning, design and engineering work, but with dedication, hard work and the right professionals by your side, it can be accomplished. However, how can you know if you’re building the right product? Dedication and hard work alone won’t be enough. There’s another factor to consider on the equation: if it solves a real problem for real people. Many startups often decide to go straight to the building phase and end up missing some important steps of the product development process, such as validating their business idea with potential customers and analysing the market. Let’s go over some things to take into account when setting a product strategy.
Connecting with customers
Finding a pain point
Every business starts with an idea. Someone sees an opportunity and decides to do something about it. Good opportunities are usually inspired by an actual problem: a scenario that can be improved, something that is currently done manually and can be automated, or a process that’s poorly done and can be more efficient, for instance. Situations like these indicate that a pain exists and that it can be solved, changing someone’s life and habits. A good question to ask is: what is someone going to stop doing when they start using your product? If you find the answer to that, you’re on the right track. Still, that’s only an assumption. To validate this assumption, it’s paramount to talk with those that experience that problem directly, a.k.a. potential customers.
Talking to potential customers
With a problem and a proposed solution on your hands, the next step is to validate that hypothesis. Is it an actual problem? Is the solution something that people are willing to adopt on their day-to-day routine? Good ways to discover that are by interviewing potential customers and learning more about their habits and behavior.
There are a handful of techniques for performing research: ethnographic studies, online surveys and face-to-face interviews, to name a few. Ethnographic research, for instance, is the observation of customers in their most common context, where they face the problem previously mapped. It works really well to get insights on behavior, which might confirm or refute assumptions without influencing the results – since it relies on observation and analysis.
Influencing results is something to be aware of when performing face-to-face interviews, though. When performing an interview, try not to induce customers to answer what you expect to hear. Not so effective questions are usually too direct, like: “Would you be willing to use a product that does X for you?” or “Do you face problem Y?”. These can generate false positives, as people tend to answer them positively just to please the interviewer. Better interview questions are more broad: “Please, tell me more about your day-to-day work.” or “Please, explain how you perform this specific task on your routine.”. The answers to your hypothesis will emerge naturally from the conversation, as people talk about their needs and motivations.
Studying the market
Mapping out the competition
Roughly saying, hundreds of new products are launched worldwide every day, so the chance of a similar product already existing out there is high. With that in mind, it’s important to look for other competitors that might already be on the market solving a similar problem. Start by searching keywords on Google, App Store and Google Play – depending on the kind of product you’re planning to build – and mapping it out on a spreadsheet by listing names, market size, features, strengths, weaknesses and any other information can be relevant. That way, you’ll be more prepared and able to detect opportunities and strategies to make your solution unique.
Even if a problem seems similar, the approach to the solution can be very different – either due to simplicity (easier to use), innovation (something that hasn’t been done before) or niche (focusing on a specific set of customers). Use that on your advantage. Also, the answer for differentiation might not necessarily lie on the product itself, but on external factors – such as expertise on the business area, networking etc.
Product idea validation
Now that you’re confident about which way to go, it’s time to start thinking about solutions – what might be the best approaches to solve the customer problem. At this point, it’s important to generate a lot of hypothesis, test and iterate quickly over them.
Deep dive and Design Sprint
Deep dive – created by IDEO – was one of the first rapid and iterative product development approaches created. It relies on generating a lot of hypothesis based on the information gathered on the research, prototyping and validating them to learn as quickly as possible before jumping into the build phase. You might have also heard of the Design Sprint, a more recent approach created by Google Ventures with a similar idea. Both methods are a really valuable way of generating ideas, learning and uncovering possible usability flaws.
The process is structured in five steps: Focusing on a problem, Sketching solutions, Choosing the best, Prototyping and Testing with customers. These steps can be done in a very short time. The Design Sprint, for instance, proposes a five-day sprint, one for each step. By the end of the week, you’ll certainly have learned more about your customers and if the solution you’re willing to build makes sense or not. If it doesn’t, go back to step three and try out different solutions to get more feedback. When you (and your customers) are happy with the outcome, time to move further on the design process and begin building a full prototype with visual design in place!
With these insights in place, planning and building a product becomes a much more accurate process. Bear in mind that these tips don’t necessarily guarantee the success of a product, but will certainly reduce the chances of failure, since customers – the heart and soul of any business – are taking part on the process from day one. And it shouldn’t stop here: validation is a continuous and iterative flow, serving as a base for product development decisions and business growth. For further studying on the matter, I’d recommend The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.