7 steps to adapt the product market. Deciding what to build is the most… | by Eric Elliott | JavaScript scene | October 2022

Deciding what to build is the most important step in product development, but almost every team sucks. Here are 7 steps to build the right product faster.

I’ve helped hundreds of companies bring products to market: software for brands like YouTube, BBC, CBS, Zumba Fitness, etc. This experience helped me understand how to quickly create a suitable product market.

Technically, product market adjustment occurs when the customer acquisition cost (CAC) falls below the customer lifetime value (CLV) and remains lower long enough to achieve sustainability in the market. Here is a better definition that satisfies the first:

Product market fit happens when you create a product that users love.

If you follow these 7 steps, stay flexible and nimble, and listen to customer feedback, you’ll dramatically improve your chances of success:

  1. Market Selection
  2. Validate the problem
  3. User interviews
  4. Story Mapping
  5. Solution talks
  6. Prototype
  7. Launch

To get to product-market fit quickly, get feedback and make adjustments as soon as possible. The faster you learn, the faster you’ll build something that resonates with users. You can’t sell a product that nobody wants.

The first step is to identify the market you want to serve. Creating a successful new product takes a lot of work. To get a product off the ground, you’ll be focusing almost exclusively on the market for several years, so you need to make sure you and the market are a good fit.

Are you the right person to approach the market you have in mind?

  • Do you have the required market experience?
  • Do you have a marketing strategy? How have other companies in the market developed?
  • Do you know the distribution channels available?
  • Do you have a network of potential customers?
  • Do you know the right people or do you know how to meet them?
  • Investors?
  • Advisors?
  • Qualified engineers and operational personnel?
  • The partners?
  • Clients?

If you don’t see yourself focused on these issues for the next 10-20 years, this may not be your problem to solve.

Good product ideas come from many different sources:

  • Technology — What can you build with today’s technology that wasn’t possible before?
  • New business models — What new business models have recently emerged?
  • New problems — What problems do people face that they did not have to face before?
  • New markets — What new markets have recently emerged?
  • New distribution channels — What new distribution channels have recently appeared?
  • Improve existing solutions — There is always room to build a better mousetrap, but your solution must be at least 10 times better than existing solutions. People like what they know, so they need a compelling reason to change.
  • Specialize an existing solution for a new niche — The key here is to saturate the density of the niche market in a way that allows you to expand into adjacent verticals as you grow. It’s a sneaky way to challenge market holders.
  • Solve an already solved problem from a different angle — Maybe existing solutions don’t address a critical customer need, but your competitors are forced to do things the old fashioned way.
  • Watch new app innovations in unrelated markets — What applications are taking off in other problem areas? What makes them successful? Is this something that can be applied to your market?
  • Crossing ideas from other fields — Mix the best ideas from different fields to create new applications in your field.

Describe the problem in 1 page which contains only:

  • A short text header describing the problem in a few words.
  • A sentence or two with a little more detail.
  • An email input form with words like “Sign up for early access”.

Create several different landing pages with minor variations and run Google ad campaigns and social media posts to see which one gets the most signups. This will help you understand what to focus on first.

Use the collected emails for the rest of these steps.

Talk to as many people as possible in your target market. Ask them about their current workflow and any pain points they are experiencing. Make a list of all the issues they mention, then group the issues into themes. This will help you understand what the most important issues are. Rate them based on how many people mention them and how important they are to the customer.

Focus on one persona and one user journey. Build a story map that encompasses all the stages of this journey. For each step, identify user pain points and how your solution would address them. Focus on user benefits, not features. Features come later.

The most important part of story mapping is not identifying everything you need to build, but identifying the minimum set of things you need to build. first.

Once you fully understand the problem, start talking to people about potential solutions. See what they like and dislike about various ideas. At this point, you can show mockups of what the solutions might look like and get feedback on them. Real potential users can help you identify problems that you hadn’t thought of with the proposed solutions or even suggest better solutions.

Build a prototype of your solution and get feedback from real target customers. You’ve probably heard the term minimum viable product (“MVP”). The prototype you show to your users should be less than an MVP. Remember that your goal is do not build the final product but to build the least amount of software that solves the problem. The less you build, the faster you can get feedback and iterate on your solution.

This is the perfect time for usability testing. There are apps online that can help you find testers, but you have a mailing list of interested people. Ask them to record a short video of themselves using the prototype and send it to you. You can then watch the videos and see what they like and dislike about the prototype. You can also ask them to talk about their experience using the prototype.

You only need to test with 3-5 users at this point. In fact, with just 5 users, you’ll discover about 85% of your prototype’s problems. You can then use this feedback to iterate on your prototype and test again. If you’re building a consumer app with broad appeal, you can perform guerrilla user testing at a popular cafe nearby. At around 10-15 minutes per test, you can get all the feedback you need in less than 2 hours and get back to work.

Once you’ve resolved the main issues with your prototype, you can move on to the next step.

Get started as soon as possible. Waiting will only make it longer to work through the cycles. Now that you’ve tested your prototype with a handful of users, it’s time to invite more people from your early access mailing list. Be sure to integrate analytics tracking and error reporting so you can see how people are using your product and fix any issues they encounter.

That’s it. Now that you’ve released your MVP, it’s time to start iterating. Go back to step 3 and start talking to other users. Keep iterating on your product until you have something people love. Once you’ve found the product/market fit, you can start thinking about how to scale up.

The only metric that matters is that users like your product.

Remember:

  1. Market Selection
  2. Validate the problem
  3. User interviews
  4. Story Mapping
  5. Solution talks
  6. Prototype
  7. Roll and repeat from step 3.

The Lean start-up by Eric Ries is a great book with lots of details on learning quickly during the early iteration of the product.

Advice from The Lean Startup and similar sources focuses a lot on metrics and testing that can help you understand your progress, but in the early days of your product, the only metric that matters is that users love your product.

Things like A/B testing — even earnings won’t tell you what you need to know. Listening to real users using your product is the best way to get early traction fast. You learn actionable insights faster and create a community of passionate users who feel like part of the team. They will feel a sense of belonging and involvement with the company and the product that you can’t buy with just any marketing budget.

I help companies create great software products. If you want help improving your software development process, contact us at DevAnywhere.

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