So you have a product idea but not sure it’ll sell?
The best way to succeed as a start-up is to focus on customers and experiment with your product, until you find the right fit with your audience/product. Here I’m showing three examples of successful startups (Buffer, Bookniture, DropBox) and how they used this method.
1. Will visitors BUY my product? – example: Buffer
Buffer is a an app that let users queue up social media posts and posts them for you according to a chosen schedule. Its founder, Joel Gascoigne, wanted to find out if anyone wanted to use it.
Before building Buffer, Gascoigne followed these 3 steps to ensure Buffer was a viable product:
Step 1 – the 1-page home: Created a 1-page homepage explaining what Buffer was. It had a button to view plans and pricing. When clicked, the page said “Hello! we’re not quiet ready yet, please leave your email address and we’ll let you know when we’re ready”
Step 2- the pricing & plan button: Once a fair number of emails, he updated his landing page to add Plans & Pricing. He shared the page and visitors clicked on the paying plans.
Step 3 – the minimum viable product: he created a simple version of Buffer in just a week. Buffer quickly developed a 500-strong (paying) customer base.
2. I need FUNDS to develop my product: getting revenues BEFORE building
– example: Bookniture
Use KickStarter and similar platforms to fund your project before production.
A lovely example is Bookniture: flexible furniture elements hidden in books. Great for space-strapped people. They got funding in 5 days on KickStarter. Their initial goal was USD50,000 and they reached over USD325,000.
Step 1- Website/Social media: Create a FB page or one-page website for the product. Share it on Social media. Count the number of likes and people clicking on the “buy” button of the website.
Step 2- Prototype making with Images & video (running alongside step1): Photograph & video – Photograph everything: the initial sketches, the making process, the finished prototype, the prototype in use, or even better: shoot a video about it.
Step 3- Join KickStarter and get funding.
3. Getting people to LOVE your product FEATURES using VIDEO + prototyping – go viral
– example: Dropbox
Sometimes it’s hard to get a feel if the product’s features via just a prototype. Sometimes you need to establish an emotional connection between you and your audience. That’s when a video is a great way to put your story and product to life on a budget.
One example of this is the Drop-box video made by the company founder. He posted it online, and visitors loved it so much, he had thousands of views in a matter of days.
His lessons (read a TechCrunch article on this MVP):
- The biggest startup risk: make something nobody wants
- Not launching is painful. Not learning (for instance: testing a MVP) is fatal
- Put something in users hands and get real feedback ASAP
- Know where your target audience hangs out and speak to them in an authentic way
A prototype is a basic version of your product to test it. It can be done on paper.
Prototyping a website like Dropbox does not have to be complex. You could start small (i.e. sketch it), test your prototype and then create a more detailed prototype once you have user feedback. Twitter started as a sketch on paper (below). It was followed by a bare-bone website (built in a few weeks) launch .
What’s a Minimum Viable Product?
A MVP (Minimum Viable Product): it is the step requiring the least effort from you, yet it helps you test your idea on customers.
See here a list of tools to create and test a MVP.
All the examples above follow roughly the same steps. The key is to execute steps quickly:
- starting with a problem you think is worth solving (e.g. for Dropbox is was exchanging files)
- identify a target audience for that problem and hang out with them (for instance by joining a forum/meetup)
- start a Business Model canvas (view template)
- draft a Value Proposition/Customer Profile canvas (view template) and interview customers
- create a solution (using prototyping tools) that resonates with your audience
- use all you’ve learned (in the ‘learn’ step) to customise your solution for your audience
- share your product with your audience
- get their feedback
…and do the 3 steps again until you have a finished product. It’s a lot of work, but if you do the 3 steps quickly, you’ll save a lot of time/money compared to creating a fully-blown product without customer feedback (which is unlikely to meet customers’ needs).
The main mistakes start-ups do is to ignore step 1, or do very little of it: in a future article, I’ll explain how to do step 1 (“Learn”). I’m an experienced researcher (both market and user research – the key is to combine quantitative and qualitative research.