Startup Insights: Putting a Product in the Marketplace

Having a product is obviously better than not having a product at all, but not by much.? Bringing a product into the marketplace is just the first step on a long and arduous journey to make the product liked, respected, actually used by people on a consistent basis and ultimately massively adopted. In this article we will go over the 10 typical considerations of bringing a product to a market.

1) No One Cares About Your Product

By now it has been well-documented that ?if you build it, they won’t come.”? The indifference level of web consumers is depressing.? There are already too many products out there and not many people want to learn to use new ones.? Existing sites are likely already doing much of what you do, and they probably do it much better since you are new. Your differentiation factor is not necessarily compelling or obvious, and you have on average about 15 seconds to win over each person over who visits your site or product – no chance.? As difficult as it is to get people to your site, most of them will come to take a look and leave without a trace.? That is a reality of the web.? The indifference is deafening.[login]

2) Iterating and Improving Your Product

It is not too much of a problem that no one cares about your product at first.? You can just look at it as a challenge to overcome.? The best way to overcome the indifference is to talk to many people who come in contact with your product that you manage to get a hold of, and ask them where the product came up short for them, and how their current solutions stack up.? This will give you a sense of what to improve and after you improve those parts of the site or product, you can reach out to some of those people again. Most likely you will still face strong indifference as just a single product iteration isn’t going to do miracles for you, but over time such efforts will keep a steady buzz around your product, help you develop some strong relationships, and you will earn the respect of your customers by adhering to their needs.? Most importantly, as your product gradually matures and improves, the indifference level will naturally ebb and the excitement level will slowly increase since there will be something to get excited about once your product is at a high quality level.

3) When to Listen To Customers

Your customers and non-customers who are potential customers know about the shortcomings of your product better than anyone.? They can tell you what is bothering them about the product and what is preventing them from switching over from their current solutions.? Pay close attention to what is most bothering your clients and near-clients.? If it is something they require is simple to implement and is in-line with your greater product vision, implement the improvements they need. It will improve your relationship with them and your product at the same time.

If their requirement is something that is very difficult or resource intensive to implement, but makes sense for your ultimate product vision, inform the clients that you are going to be putting it on your to-do list in the near future.? In cases of perspective clients, you can even use the short-coming to your advantage and simply ask them whether you can count on their business if you will impleent what they require.

4) When Not to Listen to Customers

Customers are always right, correct?? Wrong!? Sometimes the customer requests do not match your bigger vision for the company and the product. Sometimes one customer comes up with a laundry list of changes that may be good suggestions, but are 4’s and 5’s on a 1-5 priority scale.

If you try to please such customers, you may lose focus of your vision and waste resources (employee time and money) building features and are not the most important for your company. If the requests are reasonable but low-priority, be open with your customers about adding them to the product-improvement queue.? That way the customer feels that their requests are respected and you give yourself the flexibility to get to those features when the most burning features are already created.

If the requests and suggestions are unreasonable, you should not jeopardize your product in order to please customers.? You are probably better doing something else that may please the customer like explaining to them why that particular suggestion was not taken and making sure they feel that their option is respected.? Another approach is to say that the suggestion was added to to task list and is delayed by a backlog of features.

5) Importance of Flexible Design

As you are battling consumer indifference, iterating on your product, and doing your best to make your customers happy, your product will go through a whirlwind of changes, improvements, bug fixes, and usability fixes.? This will put the initial architecture of the product through a great test.
When you originally design the product in both its branding and its core technology architecture, keep things general, unspecific and flexible as possible.? No one knows what the future will bring and during the innovation and iteration phase of the product, flexibility is one of the biggest assets.

6) Perseverance

Facing consistent customer indifference and negative feedback can be depressing over time.? Sure, you can shrug things off for a while, but lets face it: we are all human and all have our sensitivities.? It isn’t easy to work incredibly hard just to learn of the many mistakes you have made and see competitive products still fare better than yours.? In the entrepreneur world praise is much harder to come by than criticism.

Try to keep a greater perspective and find ways to cope and persevere through the negativity.? Another thing to try to do is to get yourself out of the negative cycles all-together.? Try to understand where you are finding the most negativity and why. Likely the largest source of negativity surrounding your product is also the area where your product has the lowest quality and fixing that may help decrease negativity.

Once you understand the roots of the negativity, it will be easier to see the negative cycles when they will begin to repeat, and they will be easier to stop. You have to do what you can to allow yourself to persevere through the tough and negative times. Entrepreneurship isn’t all about sexy million dollar exists.? Much of the process is grueling and arduous and you just have to find ways to get through it.

7) When To Quit on the Product

Sometimes you should just quit.? Since you should also at all times give it your absolute best, I realize that these two suggestions may sound contradictory, but you have to understand when the project just isn’t going anywhere. If the sentiment of customer feedback is not improving and if you are not seeing growth in users, visits, or revenue, something is not right. To continue, you must have at least some metrics which show growth. If not, you should at least have plans and actions in motion to make those metrics grow. If you do not even have plans or ideas on how to make these metrics grow, and do not see any interesting ways to pivot the project, that may be a hopeless-enough situation to consider abandoning the project.

8) Measuring Performance

No matter what efforts you make in your project, you will be better off if you can measure the effectiveness of your efforts. If you add a feature to your product, it won’t give you much insight into its effectiveness if you don’t know whether one person used that feature or one million people did.

The best way to iterate on and improve your product is to create measurable metrics which have real meaning to your business. Some of the very common such metrics are unique user visits (measure marketing efforts and visitor growth), how long the visitors stay on the site (gives a sense of improving/decreasing product quality) or the rate of sign-ups per x number of visitors which gives you a sense how well your landing pages are optimized. These are very general metrics and specific businesses will likely have more insightful metrics they will need to measure as well.

Without tracking many different metrics, you really wouldn’t know how effective your product or your product-improvements are. You won?t be able to tell what you are doing wrong and why, and that may cause you to fail because you will not be learning about the effective practices for your business.

9) Product-Market Fit

All of this talk about indifference, iteration and perseverance boils down to one single point in time. Perhaps it is an inflection point. This is the point when your ever-maturing product will become right for its market. It will offer enough value and uniqueness to be compelling enough and begin to easily acquire new customers.

All the efforts before this point are merely a search for the right fit.? It is a little bit like squeezing yourself into that single open seat on a crowded train – you have to fit there just right.? Once you fit, everything will be that much easier for you.? Your customers will give you increasingly positive feedback, the positivity will give you more confidence, and with the extra confidence and accompanying good things that come from a maturing product, you will be further on your way to building a great company.

10) Keeping an Eye on Your Vision

Throughout the entire process of building the product, listening to customers, going back and rebuilding the product once more, and continuing this never-ending cycle, it is easy to get lost amidst the myriad of outside suggestions and options.? There must be some holding principles that help you maintain focus on some larger goals and visions.? For Google, their motto has been to “not become evil” which is good but quite general. If you are Facebook, your motto may be to “create the best place for people to socialize online.”

That isn’t Facebook’s real motto, but it applies to nearly every feature they create.? Having such a creed or a motto also helps prioritize future product features and to see where the product is going in a larger sense.? You should always ask whether your current product initiatives are in line with your company creed or motto.? It will help you keep things focused over the long haul.

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