It’s natural to build a product and then look for market-fit, but with ever-increasing consumer standards this spray and pray approach is far from being a good strategy. Following is a product discovery process based on the assumption that failure is not an option.
Even the way we talk about it implies the wrong order. If we just move words around we can turn this goal into an actionable plan.
Pick a Market. Who is your product for? Venture-backed companies go for billion dollar markets, we be believe not every product worth building has a billion-dollar market. You should pick a market based on your goals and priorities for your business considering how well you understand them and wether the market size alings with your goals.
A. Find a Common Problem. You can pick a problem based on experience, interviews, or observation. You should know your market well or have access to learn from them.
B. Solve it #IRL for 100 people. You should try to find 100 people in your market with your problem and do whatever you can to solve their problem for them. In the case of Uber, this means giving 100 people rides yourself. This should be the most low-tech (and by that, I mean fastest/cheapest) solution possible. In this step you are working towards:
- Intimate familiarity with the problem.
- Understanding the weaknesses of the solution.
- Low-cost iterations on the solution.
- Building a community for your brand.
C. Automate it to help 1000 people. Now that you have a ton of experience with the problem, start adding technology to scale yourself. This is still not building a product, but instead automating certain parts of it.
D. Advertise a Solution to get 10k people onboard. Now that you have a ton of experience solving the problem you can describe your technical solution in order to get 10k commitments from real people who want to pay you to solve their problem for them. These are the people you will send the “We are live!” email once you have a product.
This step is iterative by nature. If you can’t get 10k people excited about the solution, then rinse and repeat.
Note: These numbers could change based on your industry, these are the numbers I would use for a consumer product. If you are building something for a small niche, a smaller sample size could work.
Built the Product. Now you have no doubt that this is something worth building and you can invest in development with the certainty of the existence of the market you will fit into.
You DON’T know what your product will be. You need to focus on WHO it’s for and what their PROBLEM is.
Your first version will be wrong, so it should be the lowest cost and the lowest fidelity of them all.
If you get attached to a solution you will build the wrong thing. Don’t get attached. 🙅🙅🙅
In between finding Fit and building Product a practical way to focus your development is making a list of features and divide them into two buckets:
Nothing Special: These are the parts of the app that have currently existing versions. A typical example is a login screen, a payment portal, a calendar, etc. For these parts, you should find an existing implementation that you like and copy it. People will give you feedback on it, but this is the feedback that you should ignore because it won’t make or break your app. You can invest in making these better or more unique once you have product-market fit.
Secret Sauce: These are the features that contain your value add. For these features, you should ideate tons of potential solutions, A/B test, iterate, and take all the feedback you can get. Get. It. Right. Don’t get attached to versions and be very analytical about finding the best solutions here.
The only way to guarantee failure is to build something no one wants. The way to solve this issue is helping people give you honest feedback about the realities of their problem. If you pick a market, solve their problem, sell them a solution, and then build it you can be sure that you are building something people want, or better yet, something they need. One of the most harmful things you can do is get attached to a solution without data to back it up. If you are systematically picky about which feedback to listen to and analytical about how you address it you will be on a fast track to product-market fit.