Startup Principles : Are You Building ‘Great’ Products?

After having shipped enterprise and small business products over the past seven years, here are a few things that I have learned along the way. This is a simple checklist of six things to help you build great products as a startup.

Solve a real problem

Many startups run into corner cases and problems that are silo or specific to a niche. Truly understanding the problem and determining whether or not customers are satisfied with your proposed solution will help pave the way for solid building blocks of a product. There are several problems to solve. Some problems are real and will drive you as an entrepreneur. Pick a problem that is close to your heart, something you may have experienced or seen others experience.

Validate your solution

You can do this by conducting interviews, surveys, simply walking out of your office building and talking to potential customers. The biggest mistake that companies make is to focus on their creative and amazing solution without asking customers if they are willing to pay for it. Validating your solution makes it easy to qualify any assumptions you have made and avoid building products that no one will use.

Perform competitive analysis

Competitive analysis requires researching the market for alternate solutions. It’s easy to look at your innovation and fall in love with it. Take the time to understand the market and the various options that are available to consumers. Learn more about your competitors and their differentiators. What are your barriers to entry in the market? Competitive analysis helps distinguish your product and brand.

Build iteratively

The biggest lesson one can learn from agile methodologies is to build iteratively. Start with a small feature set and work on a strong foundation. Prioritize and truly understand what will constitute the minimum viable product. Then, build it. Understand the importance of the user need and the satisfaction that a user will get after using the product. Do not allow scope creep or gold-plating to absorb the time and resources you have on hand.

Start with a small scope, build iterations and create high customer value. This will help you validate the product, fail fast and make corrections along the way.

Have a strong value proposition

A strong value proposition creates a solid foundation. Take some time and ask questions about the product. What are the benefits to users? Why would they use your product instead of going to the competitor? What makes you unique and what makes your product unique? Define a strong value proposition which will enable users to identify with your product. This also means putting together a value proposition statement that defines at the highest level what your product will deliver. It is also a formalized way to share your product concept and gather user feedback.

Leverage tools to help stay organized

Feature checklists, UI design guidelines, Storyboards, Burn down charts and the list goes on. There are several tools that you can leverage to stay organized as you build iteratively. Time, scope, resources, quality, risk, communication and cost are some of the parameters that you will need to plan for and track. Staying organized while you develop your product is critical. This will help you avoid the trap of exceeding time and budget.

Lastly, focus on your team and make sure you cater to the needs of your rock star team. Great teams build great products!

This post is part of my blog posts at Inc-Well NBC Chicago

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