There’s a lot to get excited about when starting a new product business. Many people get excited about all the amazing features they are going to build into their new awesome product. Unfortunately, this hype is really just a distraction from the goal we should be focusing on – finding product-market fit. I want to prepare you for the realization that 90% of product businesses fail. The good news is that the path forward is simpler than you may think.
The single greatest threat to the success of any software product company is building too much too soon. This is putting the cart WAY before the horse and it will ultimately lead to failure. Why am I so sure? Well besides the fact that there is a mountain of historical evidence that suggests this is the case, simply put – your product is a guess. The problem you are intending to solve, how you are going to solve it and even the product itself are all guesses. Until we can back these assumptions up with data and evidence they are just theories.
I encourage you not to invest in product too soon. If you do, once you find out what you should have built, you are going to have to do it over again. This is how product companies get stuck on the hamster wheel and run out of time, money or both. So how do we repurpose this energy into something more constructive that’s actually going to help our product company achieve success?
Sell baby sell
You won’t have a product business if you can’t generate revenue. So how do we figure out whether or not it will? Simply put – try to sell it. Now this part is going to sound a little weird, but stay with me – sell your product as though you already have it. Boom. Just like that you just saved $50K – $100K in development costs and 3 – 6 months of development time (speaking conservatively). Now instead, focus on finding out whether or not you can generate revenue around your product.
Every time I suggest something like this, I’m met with the same objection, “…well I can’t do that because if they say they want to buy it then I’m screwed!”. This is false. First off, you will have something to show them relatively quickly if you follow my approach below. Secondly, this is a fantastic situation to find yourself in. Think about it, you’ve found out that someone would theoretically buy your product if you had it today. Instead of worrying about a great problem to have, keep going. Find out what you could sell it for and who else that person thinks may be interested in buying it too. Get an introduction to them. Rinse and repeat.
Get technical the quick and dirty way
I know my fellow tech people out there are itching to dive into product development and you can, just not with code (yet). I’m sure I sound like a broken record at this point, but it cannot be overstated – until we have the data we need to build, it will only work against us to invest in product development.
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Instead, work on the much much lighter and faster versions of our product – wireframes. Wireframes and clickable prototypes are an excellent way to design, test and demo what our product is to prospective customers. I’ve seen countless excellent wireframes that very effectively communicate a product’s value proposition. Show these to your customer.
Building product is expensive and takes a lot of time. Wireframes and mockups are quick and relatively easy to make. With great tools out there like Balsamiq and Sketch you can have something simple together in a matter of hours. You could even take things to another level with cool new tools like Overflow and make your pixel perfect wireframes so interactive that you can start demonstrating even the user experience (UX) with customers.
Focus your early efforts on sales and gathering data. Until you validate your assumptions with data, building product is only going to slow you down or make it hard to achieve your real goal – finding product-market fit.