One of the biggest problems that entrepreneurs often face is how to make a product that is built to last. We’re always looking to find the perfect solution to our problem statement, but we are also in a hurry to get something out to the market. This enthusiasm although well-founded and understandable is what causes many businesses to back-pedal, and in the worst-case scenario- collapse.
The primary problem is that there are too many entrepreneurs stuck with data that supports building a business, but that need not be their business. They don’t know if what they’re offering is what consumers are looking for until it is launched in the market. Fortunately, there’s a way to establish the demand for a product before launch.
Here are some helpful pointers interspersed with key insights from Sanket Atal, Managing Director at Intuit India. He has years of experience developing stellar products and wanted entrepreneurs to keep the following in mind:
Know & Talk to your potential primary consumers
You have a problem to which you want to offer a solution. Meet your target consumers in their environment and listen to what they have to say. To extract the most out of this, you need to develop a set of interview questions and pay attention to the nuances of the problem as well as what they’re saying- this will help you to best understand the nature of their problem and allow you to offer the best valid solution.
Sanket wrote in an Intuit Blog, “Our inherent ability to deeply listen and respond to our customer needs has been unchanged by the multiple technology shifts and competitive threats we have navigated. Instead, we became more resilient by using technology transitions as a means to delight our customers and power their buoyancy during uncertain times. Our deep empathy has enabled us to build an enduring product portfolio that continues to improve and align with our customers’ deepest needs.”
In the case that you have a product in mind, instead of asking- ‘Would you use this product?’ ask, ‘Could you use this product?’ There are a considerable number of reasons as to why someone could use a product but would choose not to because of price, habit, switching costs, etc.
It’s crucial to get this step right and not underestimate it. It is easy to think that your product is the solution to the customer’s problem. However, if you listen to what your customer has to say, it will put a lot of what you’re working towards into perspective. It’s about falling in love with the problem and not the solution.
Do your Prework
Now that you know most of what you need to, focus on building the right product before you think of building the product right. It is easy to waste time giving attention to the smaller details of your product. So, establish that what you’re building is a market requirement before you focus on the intricacies to avoid wasting time.
One way to do that is by answering important questions like: Is the timing for your product right? How big is the opportunity for your product in its market? How is it going to be different from what already exists in the market? What are the alternatives?
Sanket told DigitalCreed in 2016, “Startups use open source solutions to shorten their time to market. Unfortunately, what happens here is that things like product management, product strategy, and taking care of DevOps are sacrificed in the interest of time. But in the long run, these things can cause all kinds of harm, because you need to be able to scale, and you need to be able to handle all kinds of challenges.”
Another thing you need to remember is that although intuition is important, it is not enough. Use available resources/data, usually made available by customers and competitors, and define a plan that does justice to your problem and intuition. Remember, there’s always a method and process behind the genius.
Hypothesize & Prototype it
With enough information at your perusal, you can now make educated guesses about what your product should look like. So, you want to now develop a quick and inexpensive prototype with features that would contribute to wide customer acceptance and adoption. The first version is very likely to not solve the problem at hand to the fullest but it will give you a good idea of what needs to be done to create the ultimate product which will have the maximum impact on consumers.
Building a prototype will also help you interact with your internal stakeholders- your employees, managers, the board of directors and investors. Based on testing, you will modify and grow your prototype as time progresses- this is not only a low cost but also a quicker way to building the right product. It is a lot more effective to be making small measurable changes that can be tested quickly to refine your product as opposed to more time-consuming big changes that are harder to get rid of.
Test & Analyse
Study how your consumer base uses your prototype. Meet them, call them, ask them questions about their habits and needs, what they like about the product and what they don’t like about it. Essentially, you’re looking to confirm/refute your hypothesis.
While you’re at it, also take the time to observe the same people using your competitors’ products and yours as it develops. This is painfully time-consuming, but extremely valuable when you design your product. Compare your expected outcome with your observed results, this will further help develop your strategy.
When it comes to feedback, in 2018 Sanket spoke to The Hindu and said, “We have taken feedback from the startups so that we can improve our products as well. The inputs have been incredibly valuable.”
Modify & Strategise
If you do better than what you expected you’re only confirming gaining a market share with your current version that when transformed into a product will need to be marketed aggressively. Of course, if they aren’t what you expected you want to learn from what went wrong and develop another prototype.
Build on your mistakes. Sanket often talks about how they practice Screw-ups of the month at Intuit, a team huddle where members from product engineering discuss what went wrong and deliberate on how to fix it.
You need to KISS your strategy. Keep it simple, stupid. Your product needs to tell a clear, simple and compelling story. People engage with stories, not with facts and features. Iterate and test until observed results exceed expectations, or until it becomes clear that it’s time to shut down the business.
Don’t be afraid to think big
You don’t need to worry about doing better than your competitors, strive to be the best.
Sanket puts it best when he says, “Where you’re at it, doesn’t matter anymore. What matters are your ideas and entrepreneurial culture that you have.”
A customer-success mindset results in high-value loyal customers. It’s best to take your time to build a product that delivers the best results to your customers. To be able to pull something like this off, you need to have a strong product organisation. With the right people to conduct your user testing, measure data, define features, focus on development, and help coordination you can build a strong product. Take your time finding these people and training them so together you can ensure the right processes are used during the development of your product.
Sanket recommends that you stay connected with your workforce and stakeholders.
A leader needs to be transparent and regularly communicate. This will retain the trust and instil hope in many to see a brighter future.