We often meet with folks who are at the earliest stages of their entrepreneurial ventures and are unsure how to go from idea to product. After an initial meeting we send them the following recommendations on how to give us (or any other team members) enough context to get started.
1. Provide Background Info
- What’s the one sentence explanation of your product?
- Who are your target users? We believe in tightly defining your initial target audience and expanding out once you have something that works for them.
- What are your business objectives for the first iteration of the product? Are your goals related to outside financing, partnerships or revenue? What metrics do you need to reach to attain those goals (i.e. x users, y% growth, $z sales)?
- What does success look like? What metrics do you need to capture to know that you’re on the right path?
- A huge number of startups fail because of a lack of traction/distribution. Acquiring customers is really, really hard. What is your customer distribution strategy? How will you get your first 100, 1,000 and 10,000 customers (or dollars in revenue)? Here are some tips.
- What is the key hypothesis you are testing?
- What are your biggest questions/risks/concerns about this business?
- Who are your competitors?
- What are your core strengths and advantages?
- What’s your revenue model? (hint: charge for it)
- What do you know that other people don’t? Why now? What wave are you riding?
2. “Problem Discovery“ (i.e. conduct 20+ user interviews)
Our natural tendency is to think of solutions first (wouldn’t it be cool if this existed?). Oftentimes there are many different ways to tackle the same problem. Fall in love with the problem space and not your particular way of solving it. It may make sense to take a step back and let your target audience define patterns and validate the problem before addressing solutions. We’d recommend finding people in your target audience and asking questions like:
- How do you currently do [x]? What tools do you use? What do you love/hate about them?
- When do you do this (at home, at work, on the go)? How often do you do this?
- In a perfect world how do you do [x]?
- What are the factors that influence your decisions? Rank them based on priority.
- Where/how do you involve other people (experts and friends)?
- What are the most time consuming tasks? Where do you make mistakes? What are your biggest frustrations? Where does it get expensive?
3. “Solution Discovery” (i.e. Fake it?)
After you’ve done a bunch of user interviews patterns will start to emerge. Are there ways to validate that your solution is one that people would want to use / pay for (see Concierge Testing)? Can you manually provide this as a service (not to make money but learn the in’s and out’s) before productizing?
4. Define Personas
You’ve now got a clear validated solution and it’s time to scale up with product. Who are your target users (we’d suggest targeting 2 or 3 different types of users initially)? What are their main motivations? What pisses them off? We’ve put together a light template document for a site like ridejoy.com (see tab 2 of this doc).
5. Prioritize User Stories
For each of the users you described above, what are the main actions they want to accomplish using this product. We believe it’s really important to bucket these into critical (you cannot get a customer without), nice to have (in a world of infinite time and money you would do) and things for the future (but not required for your v1). See a sample on tab 1 of this gDoc. Remember, you won’t “win” on features. Building a simple product is hard.
Doing the steps can help you communicate and de-risk a lot of the steps of early stage product development. Want more reading? Check out these additional links and this talk. Want to talk about launching a new venture? Get in touch.