Use this formula to evaluate a product concept. Use it to cull your ideas list.
I can’t stand formulaic approaches to otherwise intuitive and creative endeavours. When it comes to building a product, a step-by-step guide is nearly always a waste of time.
That said, there’s always something new to learn from every guide. I love the simplicity of this approach. I use it to evaluate a product concept, often using it as a tool to cull my ideas list:
Audience + Attention + Value = A Good Product
Audience: Is there an existing audience? Is the customer segment easily defined, and found all in the one place?
Attention: Do you already have the audience’s attention? Perhaps through previous products, community reputation, or media?
Value: Are you bringing a strong value proposition to your audience? Do you have the right balance between benefit and cost?
It’s a good idea to make plans in advance.
One of the most well guarded secrets of entrepreneurs is: Depression.
A startup malaise is all too common. There are ridiculous amounts of stress and work involved with starting a new business, and “leaving a dent in the universe” (a common Silicon Valley mantra). Cases of panic, anxiety, and burnout are frequent and often go undiagnosed.
If you’re struggling with depression now, please seek help.
If you’re feeling on top of things, and you’re an entrepreneur, it’s a good idea to make plans in advance to help you recognise burnout.
What habits can you put into place to help reduce your anxiety? How will you recognise burnout if it shows up?
Being humble means being honest about ourselves, not promoting the aspects we think others will like best.
Not every business is, or should be, humble. Lots of brands are about power and attention, and that’s okay. But if you have a brand which values humility, marketing can be a real challenge.
It’s natural to want to highlight your strengths, or at least, highlight what you think your customers might perceive as strengths. I’ve found that this approach often feels unauthentic, pitchy, and too “keyword” verbose.
Instead, be honest. Write as though you were talking to a very close friend, whom you want to recruit. Show them your best aspects, but keep it real.
How else can you talk about yourself, without talking about yourself?
An entrepreneur could never design a logo as effective as Starbucks.
I’ve always said that a logo can make or break a business.
More specifically: finding a visual identity which deeply resonates with your audience can help your product immensely. By contrast, if your visual identity is jarring to your audience, it can seriously set you back.
A piece of advice given by Seth Godin is that logos are “just a placeholder, a label waiting to earn some meaning”. He stresses that your brand is what matters – and he’s right. However, where he and I disagree is on how much influence the visual representation of your brand has.
There’s a reason that companies like Apple and Nike spent tens of thousands of dollars on their logo. To the lay person, a swoosh or a half-eaten apple may seem simple, but a lot of research and iteration goes into fine-tuning their reverberative quality.
The work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Max Braun may seem simple, but it takes a lot of talent and experience to boil something down to its barest essential. As Clare Boothe Luce is famous for saying, Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
A layperson could never architect a building as simple as Farnsworth House. A bootstrapping entrepreneur could never design a logo as effective as Starbucks.
What is your area of expertise? If you were to outsource your visual identity, where could your talent and experience be focused?
Small changes to our product can lead to large changes in user behaviour.
The colloquial phrase Quantum Leap or Quantum Shift means to make a very large improvement or change. Ironically, this is the exact opposite of Quantum’s scientific definition, which refers specifically to the smallest possible change.
When operating at scale, we find that small changes to our product can create large changes to user behaviour. A good question to ask ourselves is: What’s the smallest possible change I can make to my product which will result in the largest possible returns?
The answer will give us a hypothesis: I believe that moving the advertisement into the sidebar will increase my email subscription rate by 10%.
Now, test, measure, and iterate. Aim to achieve a huge quantum leap by implementing a tiny quantum change.
Most of the time, we holding our products so close that it’s hard to have a wholistic view.
A product is like a multifaceted gem. You can turn it in your mind and examine it from so many different angles. Whenever you do, you see something different.
You can view your product from a user-experience angle, a lead-generation angle, a branding angle, a road-mapping angle, a community angle, an employee angle, a developer angle, a project-management angle, ad infinitum.
Most of the time, though, we’re holding our product so close that it’s hard to have a wholistic view. Take a moment now to take a step back, and visualise your product.
At a distance, you can think about all the people your product impacts, from your target audience, to your users, to your employees, and their families.
At a distance, you can think about where your product fits within your industry or ecosystem. Is it an outlier? Are there two or three close competitors? How do other products compare in terms of size and shape?
At a distance, you can check in on your vision and values. Does the culture surrounding your product match what you have envisioned? Does the trajectory of your momentum match your intention?
Purchase hesitation isn’t ever because of price. It’s because the audience lacks trust.
Dean Owen is the entrepreneur behind a new luxury dog apparel business: Owen & Edwin.
Dean was having a hard time converting his online following. He noticed that his audience loved the idea of his product, but were hesitating to pay the premium price tag associated with his luxury dog coats.
This is a common problem. When a new product launches, especially in a higher price bracket, there’s often market hesitation.
One tempting approach would be to lower your prices in order to gain a little momentum. Bad move! Your audience will expect less, think they’ve got less, share less, associate your brand with less, and complain more when you hike your prices.
Dean realised that purchase hesitation isn’t ever because of price. It’s because his audience lacked trust.
Owen & Edwin was an unknown brand, so it’s audience didn’t trust that they would be getting what they paid for. So, they introduced a new product: Dog Biscuits.
The biscuits, sold at cost, introduced the audience to a purchase with much less risk involved . From dog treats, the customer might choose to purchase a dog collar or other accessory. Finally, the customer knows and trusts the brand, and they are ready to buy their pooch a luxury coat.
It’s unreasonable to expect our audience to trust us from the very start. What can we do to slowly introduce our products to our customers, and earn their trust along the way?
When hard decisions need to be made, a generic purpose statement is useless.
Today I sat in on two corporate functions. I won’t give out names, so let’s call them by their first letter: M and Ü.
Both companies pitched their positioning “Purpose Statement”. The primary goals of a purpose statement are:
- to help align team focus, and
- to guide decision making (especially during hard times)
Here is M’s purpose:
“We power people to live their best lives.”
Here is Ü’s purpose:
“Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone.”
You might have guessed by now who Ü is.
M, on the other hand, is a complete mystery. Their mission could be (and often is) applied to just about any business.
Their purpose statement utterly fails in its goal, because it’s far too broad. With this purpose, I can justify doing almost anything. When hard decisions need to be made, a generic, unspecific purpose statement is vague and useless.
Ü, on the other hand, has deftly navigated troubled waters, because it remains focused on a very specific point on the horizon.
We need our purpose to be crisp and precise. It should be relevant specifically to our business.
Could your company’s purpose be crispier?
Of course they’re out of your league! They’re not even playing the same game!
Today I had a meeting in the most corporate part of Brisbane city. Tomorrow, I’m in Sydney, meeting in the offices of bankers, architects, and insurers.
As I passed yet another grey suit in the street, a thought crossed my mind:
“These corporate business types are way out of my league.”
But, after some consideration, I realised I was making a false assumption. To extend the sporting analogy: Of course they’re out of my league! They’re not even playing the same game!
This simple realisation allowed me to walk on past the constant stream of jackets and ties with a smile, wishing them the best of success.
My game isn’t law or finance. My game is innovation, emerging tech, and Product.
In our ultra-connected, hi-fidelity world, the vinyl trend seems out of place. What drives interest in such an outdated format?
I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes poking through vinyls in a record store.
Despite modern music streaming services like Spotify and iTunes, vinyl record sales are booming, reaching $11.5 billion in 2015. That’s almost double what they made in 2013.
In our ultra-connected, hi-fidelity world, the vinyl trend seems out of place. What’s driving the interest in such an outdated format?
I believe there are two reasons: Vinyl is tactile, and vinyl is social.
There’s something visceral about holding the large square of cardboard, smelling the musky scent of old plastic, feeling the grooves in the wax. This tactile sensation is becoming rarer as the world becomes more digital.
No social media experience can compare to a group of friends choosing a record, and sitting together to hear it. Yesterday I lay on the floor with my son listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. We could have done the same with Spotify, but never would have. Vinyl brings people into the same room – another social sensation which is becoming rarer.
What would it look like if we took these two principles (perhaps we could even call them basic needs?) and applied them to our product?
Mailchimp giveaway a toy mascot (Freddie) to their devoted user base. Unique and interesting swag is one way of making your web-app more tangible. How could you literally get your software in the hands of your users?
Gimlet Media host events where people can meet the hosts of their podcasts in person. Conference booths, launch parties, and training days can all bring your users together into the same room. How could you literally bring your product’s community together?