Notes
Juicy and Useful Tidbit

Not all products are created equal

Jul 12

The face of the product is very simple. It's a thing that someone uses to help them achieve something. In reality, a product is like an iceberg because it encompasses these criteria:

  1. Usefulness
  2. Maintenance
  3. Marketing opportunities
  4. Customer acquisition
  5. Development time
  6. Customer support
  7. Distribution

Depending on the weight of each criterion, not all products are created equal, hence you should choose carefully which one to make.

But most of us tend to pick a product based on #1 because we're born makers (aka product centric people). If the idea provides a reasonable value, then we go in full force on that idea. As we continue to develop the product, each of the above criteria pops up and we can either tackle it as we go, or drop the project entirely and move on to the next one.

Dropping the project is probably the most common move because we realized during development that it's taking longer than expected. Is it useful yet? We aren't sure because the minimum features of the product have not been completed to a state of being able to test its usefulness.

Since we also didn't acquire any customer yet through any marketing channel, we have no idea who will benefit the product and thus losing interest as the development time takes the bigger piece of the pie.

Say we keep treading and finish the product. We finally tested its usefulness and marketed the product through the value it provides. We're beginning to acquire customers via word of mouth. We launched it. We get a surge of users. Then it all died down. What's our next marketing strategy? More features? Then it means more development time. However, we also realized that our customer base requires a hefty support. And we ended up spending most of our time helping our customers as oppose to acquiring more customers. We couldn't even spare a single moment to improve on the product.

Since our initial version took longer than expected, we had to button up and move as fast as possible to the launch date. We launched it, but the battle with time meant we had to sacrifice on the product's quality just to get it out the door.

At this time, not only do we have to support our existing customers, we also have to fix our mishaps and expand our marketing effort in order to acquire more customers and build a sustainable business. Soon enough, we drop the ball and call it quits.

Notice that I didn't specify if it's a software or a physical product. I think this hypothetical story works for any type of product.

I've fallen into this trap time and time again. And every time the glorious dream of what the product could do would cloud my judgement. So I've written this note as a reminder for myself and a blueprint for you when you embark on your product development journey.

What we need to do is to evaluate the idea we have with respect to the entire criteria.

The criteria are universal. They are also not listed in any particular order, because different product requires different set of priorities so there's not one set method that will work for all.

For instance, a product may have a ton of ways to market but it requires the product itself to be in the marketing. If that's the case, we'll have to develop the simplest possible version of the product that allows us to begin implementing our marketing strategies. If you're developing an iPhone app, you'll need to develop the product first before you can distribute it via the App Store. But if you have your own website to sell the product, you can distribute first via preorders before pushing development with full force.

Then we need to pick which one we wouldn't mind spending a lot of effort on during the lifetime of the product in order to maintain and grow our product business.

Usefulness

Does the product provide value for someone or solves a problem they have? Is it a necessity to use your product or is it just a nice to have? What can they do with your product that they cannot do if they're not using it? Do they learn a new skill? Do they accomplish their tasks faster? Can they produce a higher quality result? Can they level up?

Maintenance

The first version of the product will never be the perfect one. You will need to maintain the product after its release in order to make the user experience as best as possible. Customers will have complaints and suggestions. How will you fix the complaints? Do you roll the suggested features into your product? Softwares have bugs. Physical products have manufacturing inconsistencies. Vendors have problems.

Marketing opportunities

Is there a lot to say about the product and the value it provides? Where can you promote the product? Who will you promote the product to? What types of medium can you promote the product? Text? Audio? Video? Demo? Events? How easy is it to say whatever you have to say about the product in the medium that you choose? Is there a series of gatekeepers? Or are you free to promote it anyway you want? Are there any influencers that can help you promote your product?

Customer acquisition

How easy is it to acquire customer? Where can you find them? Where do they hang out? How do you tell the people who should be interested in your product? What kind of customers are you serving? Are they early adopters? Are they money-conscious? Are they the decision makers? What sort of personalities do they have?

Development time

How long do you need to develop the first version of the product to get something into the customers' hands, or to judge the product's usefulness? If you spend all the time developing the product but you decided to drop it, can that time be redeemed in some way? For example, can you spin off the product into a new product to cut the development time of the second product into half? Or can you take existing products to develop your new product? If you limit yourself to a strict amount of time, what can you make? Can that thing you built within the restricted time be used for something like marketing and telling people about it?

Customer support

How do you handle customer questions? Do you have a dedicated support team? Do you have a bot to handle common troubleshoot questions? Do you have an easy access resource for customers to find help? For example, a website, a phone helpdesk, an online forum, or a chat messaging group. Can customers contact you directly? How long do you respond to customer questions? How will you educate your customer on using your product? Do you build the onboarding process right into the product or do you provide a guide of some sort?

Distribution

Where and how are you going to distribute your product? In a magazine? Direct mailing? In a retail store? In a website? In an app store? In a local marketplace? In an online marketplace? In a tradeshow? In an event? Is there a location where your customer hangs out so you can talk to them about your product?


That's a lot to think about for just one product. But if we break it down into simple parts, it's more than likely an idea will become a fully baked product with you passionately working on it. A product's success is not the ratio of each item in the criteria. It's not black and white. It's more of the effort and work put in by the creator of the product and how each step is being handled.

Choose your product wisely.

P.S Cost is also an important factor, but to level the playing field, let's remove it out of the equation. I'm assuming if everyone gets the same amount of resources, what kind of product will you choose to make?

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Hello, I'm Kevin Yang and I write about how to make progress in design, app development and business.

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