Ready to build your product? Do this first.

March 26, 2013 · 5 Comments


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

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?

etc…  I really like this post on conducting user interviews.

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  (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.

  • @RayWu

    Great bundle of blog posts! Thank you. If failure stories interests you, my contributions are here:

  • Whitney Hess

    Thanks so much for including my post!

  • big bobby joe

    Problem Discovery: First sentence has “too” written when it should be “to.”

    • amitklein

      fixed, thanks! grammar FTW!

  • Alex Montoya

    You guys are so down with planning. I love it!!!! I need to get my clients excited about PLANNING!!!!