4 Steps to Create a Winning Product

Lean Startup Model

Many articles have been written about why so many startups failed. Inevitably it comes down to any of the following reasons:

  • Not having the right product
  • Not being able to market the product successfully
  • Running out of money

So as a startup, what can you do to overcome these issues or at least set yourself up for the maximum potential success?

1. Focus on the MVP

Don’t worry about how you will market the product, how much you will charge for it or any of those details at this point. Just focus on the minimal viable product (MVP) that people would enjoy using (and potentially pay for). The idea should be to get this into the hands of users as quickly as possible. Leave the fancy and frill features for later on, once you have validated your product. This way you will know if you’re on the right track, without having wasted time and money by going in the wrong direction.

2. Find Early Users

Find people around you who match the audience you are planning to target. If members of your friends and family match this description, get them involved testing early versions of your product and (more importantly) get feedback from them. Is this a product they would use? Ideally, try to find people who have the very problem that your product is trying to fix.

There are other sites you can use to get beta testers to give you feedback, so use those if required.

After the initial testing, if they continue to use the product, that is a good sign that you may be on to something. If they stop using the product even after your constant prodding then assume that either they don’t match your target demographic or that your product still needs some polishing before it is ready for mass release.

3. Keep Iterating

If you find that users are not returning to your product, find out why.  Many times people who are close to you may lie to you for your own benefit, in order to give you support and not discourage you. So ask questions like:

  • What would you change about this product?
  • Are there any features you would like to see added?

Use the feedback given to improve the product and release new versions that incorporate that feedback. If the users helping out really have the problem that you’re trying to solve, then it’s in their interest for your product to succeed so that their problem can be solved. They should be more than happy to test new versions and give you genuine feedback on whether the product has improved or not. I have used this approach for many of my products.

4. Market when Ready

One mistake I’ve seen a lot of startups make is to start marketing a half baked product. The few users they do have rarely use their product, so they assume that their problem is not having enough users. In fact, the problem is that their product isn’t good enough!

On the other hand, if you do have a product that users are happy with, then now is the time to start marketing it. One way to know if you’re at this stage is if you can get testimonials or positive reviews from users with ease. After all, if they are happy with the product, then chances are good that there will be others out there who would also benefit from this product.

By using this approach, you can ensure that you’re spending money where needed. It’s very easy for startups to run out of money by spending money developing unnecessary features early on, or by trying to market half baked products. Instead if that money was spent on building the core product with a loyal base, before beginning to market it, then their chances of success would be much higher!

Generate Ideas by Solving Real Problems

Now that I’ve had the experience of attending two startup weekends – one as a participant and one as a speaker, I’ve been exposed to pitches from several other startups. Add to that, all the news on startups coming in from sites likeTechCrunch and AngelList and I’m starting to notice a disturbing trend.

People are focusing on ideas, rather than solving problems.

The focus should not be on “What startup should we create?“, it should be on “What problem should we solve?”

The good news is that we are not asking you to solve world hunger or broker peace in the middle east (although that would be nice). All you need to do is solve problems that real users have.

How do you find these problems?


Take a look at your Facebook and Twitter streams and see what people are complaining about. Join forums and discussion groups to see what kinds of problems people are having.

See if you can do any of the following:

  1. Take something that is complicated and make it simpler. Perhaps by reducing the number of steps involved.
  2. Take something inconvenient and make it more convenient.
  3. Take something that is currently expensive and find a way to do it for cheaper, or even for free!
  4. Take something that is of low quality, and create a higher quality version that you can charge more for.
  5. Take something that is currently boring, and make it more exciting.

When I listen to a startup pitch, it should be clear to me what the problem is that they are solving. Let’s take a look at some famous examples.

It’s clear what problem Evernote is trying to solve. People tend to forget a lot of things. Evernote helps them remember by making it easy to take notes.

Facebook solves the problem of us losing connection with our family and friends, as we live our busy lives.

Both these products are quite clear, and require little convincing. As a result, both companies are huge with millions of users around the world.

If you have to explain to me what my problem is, or try to convince me that I have a problem that I previously didn’t know exist, then it may be hard to get traction.

Better yet would be to find users with the problems you are solving and introduce your product to them directly. If they continue using your product, you know you’re onto something. If they don’t come back, then follow up with them and find out why.

How to Increase Your Business Revenue

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The total revenue your business earns can be summed up by the following equation:

Total Revenue = Revenue per user * Number of users.

This revenue generated is a direct result of the value you provide to your user base.  You can observe this value by substituting it for revenue in the same equation:

Total Value Provided = Value to 1 user * Number of users.

Looking at it this way provides an easy solution to increase your business revenue:

  1. Find more users.
  2. Increase the value you provide to each user.

What does it to take to find more users?  For each additional user, you need to:

  1. Introduce the person to your product or service.
  2. Get him to trust you.
  3. Convince him to make his first purchase.

That sounds like a lot of work (and it is).  Once you have done all that though, increasing the value you provide to an existing user becomes much easier, since he already knows your company, trusts you and has made his first purchase that he is hopefully happy with (if not, you have a different problem to solve).  

Have you done everything you can to maximize the value you are providing to your existing user base?  If not, then would it be easier, cheaper and more efficient for you to maximize that resource first, before looking for new ones?