September 14, 2017

FoundersProductServiceStrategyStartupApp DevelopmentSoftware Development

We’ve had the pleasure of helping over 100 startups with product strategy, prototyping, development and much more. When looking back at a key aspect of what each of these projects required for success, there is a glaring common thread among the successful endeavors: the ability and willingness to challenge assumptions.

When you have a great idea that you’re deeply passionate about, it’s easy to fall into the trap of considering it “your baby”.  For the sake of this analogy, let’s consider the literal comparison. Like your child, you don’t want anyone to tell you how to nurture it. It’s your creation and you know what’s best for it! This is not an uncommon sentiment for Founders.

Raising a child has been a smooth, straight forward process for exactly nobody, ever.  It’s a learning process for all involved and your opinions and values throughout the journey are not only challenged, but likely to change due to the true needs of the ‘child’.  It’s learned early on, that sometimes positive decisions aren’t based on personal opinions, but rather, a larger understanding of a landscape you may or may not be considering.

Although not quite a living, breathing organism, there are similarities between nurturing a child and nurturing an idea for an app or custom software from its conception to a revenue generating business.  From observations of the products we’ve launched, we believe the trait required for successful Founders is a readiness to enter product development with an open mind and healthy amount of detachment from your original inspiration.

Starting small

When we take on new clients, whether it be a Fortune 500 company or a bootstrapped Founder building an idea out of thin air, we always start with the same process: take the big idea, break it down into it’s most simplistic core, and determine what small or actionable steps are needed to move forward straight away.

Part of this process involves recognizing honestly the assumptions we’re making about the product. For example, we might say, “X information is most important to the user.” The question here is, how do we know? Is this an unvalidated assumption? This questioning offers us a starting point for what to affirm from potential users before moving forward in any direction. After all, we’re here to build an app that people use -- not one that is simply consistent with our personal vision.

Most of the ideas we are introduced to begin with large scopes, and an impression that developing them is simple, fast and cheap. There are a two big issues with the inaccuracies of this.

  1. Most first time Founders don’t have a lot of resources, financial or otherwise. Developing complicated products bloats cost, which is an extremely limiting factor.
  2. Even if the Founder has endless resources; we don’t want a huge initial scope. In order to keep feedback loops small and product decisions precisely informed by user validation (which is all that truly matters), building robust first releases isn’t a smart move in any scenario.

The reality is that developing apps and custom software can be very expensive, especially if you want to build a quality product that you can monetize and scale.  What if you don’t have to start with development?  The truth is, you not only don’t have to, but in most cases you shouldn’t. There are scrappy and cost-effective ways, such as prototyping, that you can use to validate your idea before you start spending big bucks on developing a product that users may not even want to use.

It is natural when you see a need in the market to want to put the pedal to the floor on creating the solution. Sometimes moving quickly doesn’t have the same starting point as you may have thought.

Know when you’re making an assumption

When you are developing a new idea, compile any and all of the assumptions you have about your product.  Example: “I know that ____ group of people will use my app for ____ reason,” or, “Users will need the ____ feature in the app”. There is always a chance that your assumption may not be valid, no matter how small that chance may be.

We practice this with our own team. Even if we are doing something that’s worked before, possibly to great extent, is there a way to make it better? The answer is almost always yes.  Now, this doesn’t mean we spend countless hours perfecting every process, because perfection is the enemy of progress, but constantly challenging ourselves has continually allowed us to innovate.

Focus on the user

User experience (UX) is second to none when designing products, because if the user doesn’t like it, then you may as well drop things where they are. The pushback we receive from Founders surrounding this is common. Because they’re so closely connected to the product, they often equate their valuable personal knowledge with knowing what the user wants. This is 99% of the time, not the case. No matter who conceived of the product idea, the lens has to constantly be shifted to the core users and what their needs are.

Focusing on the user involves challenging standards that have been set, possibly by the industry you are solving a problem in.  The problem you are solving may exist because of an outdated or oversimplified standard that most of the other companies in your space continue to follow.  Or, the overall quality of the products within your industry leave a lot to be desired.  People often talk about “that one great idea”, but it’s likely not the idea that was revolutionary--it’s how it was executed on. The users and the market for your idea may already exist, but they simply want a better product to reach them.

Give your idea the room it needs

You can smother an idea by viewing it as unchangeable.  Be steadfast in your vision for what the product should be or why it needs to exist, but if you don’t allow yourself to explore varied avenues along the way, you may miss out on creating a much more viable and more loveable product.  You need to give yourself the space to contemplate possibilities that are presented throughout the process.  If you can’t explain the “why”, you leave yourself vulnerable to wasting tons of time on features you don’t need--or at least not yet.

Users typically use apps for one specific reason and anything beyond that generally gets in the way.  For example, Facebook began as a social profile only for users with a college email ID. That limited scope is actually what allowed them to become an international phenomenon; if they had began too big, they may have not garnered early loyal users or learned in a focused manner which features worked and why. Users could latch on, because it was simple. We’ve never heard users say, “I love this app, it’s very complicated!”

Our takeaways

We know you care about your app idea. This is why we’re so eager to share this knowledge with any Founder. Caring about your app idea means letting go, listening to users, and being willing to challenge yourself.

In short, keep these three points in your back-pocket as you forge into product development. No matter what your product, we promise this will improve it!

  1. You’re building an app for users, not for you. As much as you care for this idea, making it personal will hold you back.
  2. Find small ways to prove that your assumptions surrounding needs are real with your users. Ask yourself tough questions.
  3. Start small. The truth is, you’ll never be big without beginning minimally.

Onwards, Founders! We can’t wait to see your idea in the world.

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Written by Austin Kettelhut

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