Yes, most companies and agencies start with design, but we find that this generally leads to more failure than success for new and improved products.

Why just ‘mock up’ something before you truly understand who your customer is, why they’ll use this product, how they’ll use the product, and what that product actually is?

Competition

We’ve already learned a bit about the problem you’re trying to solve during our “Understand” phase, so now we need to understand who or what is solving this problem currently in the market. To simplify things, let’s break up competition into a few categories:

  • Product Exists in the Market: There is a similar product that already exists in the market, but yours has its own unique spin. It could be cheaper, faster, better usability (UX), better design (UI / Aesthetics), new platform (mobile for example)
  • Hacked together product exists in the market: Users use existing platforms or processes to get their desired action. A great example is Dropbox, and what people had to do before it (and similar apps) were launched. Before these cloud based platforms, people had to either a) Email themselves a document b) Save the document on a “flash drive” c) Use a virtual machine d) Print the document e) Make up a crazy excuse why they forgot it.
  • Product does NOT exist in the market: We expect to only come across a handful of these each decade. Before this product existed, the actual activity was not possible, and it might be hard to explain what that product is to non-technical people. Essentially, this new product is so drastically different that it enters the “10x Principle” by Peter Thiel, Examples include: iPhone, Email, Car, Computer, Phone (Landline), Skype, Cloud Computing, etc.

We have no preference or major opinions about any of these, and do know that most truly innovative companies are in the 1 and 2 category (and learned from the failures of 2 and 3). A few tech companies that were not the first, but were the last include Facebook, Google, Groupon, Amazon, Uber, and Apple.

It really doesn’t matter where your idea, product, or company currently is, we will work with you to understand your competition and how to position yourself correctly.

Understand your Competition

Leader
  1. Who is the leader and why? (Market Cap, or revenues doesn’t necessarily mean they’re positioned correctly)
  2. How did the leader(s) get to top?
  3. How technical is the leader?
  4. What’s their Competitive Advantage?
  5. How did they create this?
  6. What’s their angle? (Cheap, Quality, Quantity, Customer Service, etc?)
  7. What’s their estimated market share?
Market
  1. Where is the market going?
  2. When do you expect this to happen?
  3. What could totally disrupt the market?
  4. Who else could come into this market
  5. How do you fit in this?

Many new innovative apps and ideas fail to do just one thing well, so we’ll work with you to nail that one thing, before we try to do 100x things well.

Now that we understand all this, we discuss how to make your product compete and become a Purple Cow.

The 5 W’s

We like to keep things simple when building a product for the first time. We’ve decided that the 5 W’s of Who, What, Where, When, and Why are great questions to ask when building a product for the first time. Read on to see why!

Who are you building this for?

We need to establish who the 1.0 is for, not the 2.0, 3.0, 4.0….

For Example, Facebook started as a “social media network” (before that term existed) for Harvard, then expanded to other Ivy League Universities with very limited functionality. Eventually, they opened up to other universities. It was years later till they opened it up to the world! >

Yes, goals and long term plans are very important, but if the 1.0 isn’t successful, then the next few versions ultimately won’t matter. We need to have a crystal clear idea of WHO we are building this for.

A few common things we hear when we ask potential clients:
  1. Investment: Some entrepreneurs think that a 1.0 will allow them to get an investment from investors or VCs. In the 2000s this was maybe the case, but the only time we really see this happening is when entrepreneurs have a prior relationship with investors, and have already discussed this scenario happening. (Not suggested…) For those with no prior experience, you should not be thinking about investment, but how to build something that’s “Too good to ignore”.
  2. City / Regional Market: This is a good starting place for most companies. It’s easier for logistical, partnership, and many other obvious reasons. If you live in your market, you understand the culture + quirks of the region, and will have a much better chance of success. Don’t forget, it’s easier to put out fires when you’re nearby, and everyone likes to root for the home team 🙂
  3. Niche Market: Also a great starting place for most companies. A great example of this is one of our favorite clients, Little Nugget. Little Nugget is an “Instagram for Baby Pictures”. We did not start with “A better Instagram” but created a niche inside a platform that already exists, and then focused that Niche to a particular thing. (Not all children, but Baby, Pregnancy and young toddler pictures)
  4. Regional, Niche Market (Optimal for Marketplaces): Many companies have some component of a marketplace (supply and demand) so the combination of a regional market inside of a niche is sometimes the perfect blend to get your product growing. We need to find a dedicated and growing group that will be your early adopters and will love what you’re trying to do.

What need will this satisfy in the market?

What’s the current status of the problem in the market, and how are people solving it? Is this product improving something that already exists? What’s the scenario?

Keep in mind that we need to figure out if this product will actually solve the original problem, and if it’s much better than what is currently in use.

For example, if you came to us with the idea of a “Groupon for Kids” so parents could save money on toys, activities, etc, we would need to figure out if the “Groupon for Kids” model actually solves that problem, OR if you’d get steamrolled by Groupon if they decided to introduce a filter for “Kids”. So, it might make sense to have an app (web or mobile) for parent’s to save $, but not setup exactly like Groupon. On the other hand, it might make perfect sense! Everyone situation is different.

Where will users be able to find this?

After we decide on the platform and why, we should establish a few of the places we expect to get customers. Will it be SEO, PPC, Mobile ads, ASO, Viral, etc? We’re not trying to set the exact marketing plan here, but make sure we don’t build something that will limit one of our main acquisition channels.

For example: You’d like to make an e-commerce site and think that SEO will be a main driver. We need to make sure that we’re optimizing for on-page SEO things, but also aren’t hiding any content behind a “Sign Up” by the user. >

When do you want this to be launched?

We live in a world where many things are instantaneous, but if we want our product to be built well and to scale properly, we need to make sure we have enough time to build. Yes, we build very quickly and efficiently, but there’s only so many hours in a week.

We need to figure out 2 things here:

  1. Are you trying to hit a deadline for a conference, big event, or other specific
  2. If so, is it OK that the product is in an Alpha / Beta status?

Sometimes we’re at 100% total capacity for the team. This means that normally we’d be able to hit your deadline, but we put priority on all of our current projects over potential. We’d expect that you’d like your project to have the same time and respect.

However, none of the above really matters if we have too small of a time window initially. We don’t like to rush things that shouldn’t be rushed. We’ve tried it in the past, and in the end, no one is happy. We want to make your product as successful as possible, so come to us early with your ideas!

Why are you building this?

Tell us why you’re building it.

  1. Is this an inner passion?
  2. Are you trying to make sure your company doesn’t get out-innovated, so you can maintain your position in the market
  3. Is your current website or app old, and it needs to be brought to modern standards?
  4. Something completely different than what’s listed here?

We expect 100% totally different answers for every project, so just be straight-forward with us!

Success

We now define what Success means to you. Yes, we actually care about the products we build and expect them to be successful. This is one of the main reasons we DO NOT accept every project that comes our way.

We start by asking how the company will measure success. Most companies haven’t put much thought into how they’ll measure the success or failure of a product, so this puts many clients at pause when we first ask it. Typically, a client will ask us how we define it to start, but since we work on so many different products, with so many different companies at completely different stages, it’s impossible for us to give a clear answer. What might be a grand-slam for one entreprenuer, might barely be a single for another.

If you’re a bit confused on how to define “Success” here are a few of the last few weeks for different projects:

1) “Help us scale our app from 25k users a month to 250k” 2) “Setup a landing page website for a new promo we have coming up” 3) “Build an Android app with the same functionality of our iOS app. We want to have as good or better metrics as our iOS did in its’ first three months”

So, it’d be hard to give a concrete answer to how we’d measure it for you right now, but the following is an example of how we’d measure success using metrics for the first few versions (1.0, 1.1, 1.2 +) of a B2C app-

Metrics

It’s pretty easy to measure digital things these days, so we can establish “KPI’s” (Key Performance Indicators” that we’d like to hit in the first month, week, daily, etc. The most important thing is GROWTH!

  1. Total Users: How many total users have either signed up or came to the site / app
  2. Active Users: How many users are using the app daily, weekly, monthly, etc?
  3. Virality: Are users sharing the app with other people?
  4. Acquisition Channels: Where are the users coming from?
  5. Total Revenue: How much does the app make daily, weekly, monthly, etc?
  6. Revenue per Customer: How much is each user spending?
  7. Repeat Purchases: How many users are making multiple purchases?

But, we wouldn’t forget that this:

  1. 1,000 Total Users
  2. 500 Active Users
  3. 250 Purchases
  4. 50 Users have made a repeat purchase.

Is always better than this:

  1. 25,000 Total Users
  2. 1,000 Active Users
  3. 500 Purchases
  4. 50 Users have made a repeat purchase.

The first example shows you that you have a great product, the second shows that you aren’t converting high enough, or your product isn’t as good as you thought.

After continuing to improve your customer acquisition channels, the next steps would be:

  1. Increase Customer Acquisition Spend
  2. Expand the product horizontally
  3. Expand the product Vertically

Yes, this is really genearlized, but is how most companies should define success and continue toward their ultimate goal!

Success Final:

We hope we haven’t lost you yet! We expect success out of every product and company we work on, and take it personally when things don’t work out as planned. We like to be as transparent as possible (Check out 16 in 2016 for example) and will share all of our experiences with both successful products and failures with you to make a great product.

Product

We’re not fans of describing products as “MVP’s” anymore. (you’ll hear us say 1.0) We feel as though the term means WAY too many things to different people and is all up to interpretation. In the last few years, this term has meant the following:

  1. Minimum Viable Product – A lean, mean, workable product that achieves customer adoption and allows the team / entrepreneur to learn. It does one thing “Great”, and the company waits till the product is live to introduce more features.
  2. Minimum Viable Product – A semi-lean product that does everything that #2 does, but has a few “added features” because the company thinks they’re necessary. It typically does one thing Great, but it’s hopefully not hidden from the customer.
  3. Minimum Viable Product – A bloated product that does a lot of things “OK”, but nothing “Great”.
  4. Minimum Viable Product – A product that is not bloated, but also does nothing ‘great’.
  5. Plus many more variations that are NOT what #1 is.

For some reason, many potential “MVPs” we come across just want to be “cheaper” versions of a market leader. For example:

We’re AirBnb, but cheaper”.

(9/10’s it’s too little too late for these companies..)

A strong 1.0 is what you should be building no matter what stage your company is in. It’ll allow you to build and iterate faster, will be less expensive, and you’ll get a better end product.

Core

How do we decide what goes into the 1.0? We build off of one single, strong solution (or core) that the app does better than anything else in the world. All great companies started with a strong core and it’s where their users spent “80%” of their time

Here are a few examples:

Instagram:

  1. User can take a picture and add a filter
  2. User can add a comment to picture
  3. User can set the location of their photo (a carryover from their pivot)
  4. User can “Favorite” other photos, or write comments.

Groupon:

  1. User sees one Business a day with a discounted ‘deal’
  2. Users have to collectively (as a Group) reach a ‘tipping point’ in order for their purchase to go through
  3. Users get their ’deal’ emailed (PDF) to them

Twitter:

  1. Users can “tweet” a public, 140 character message.
  2. Users can follow other Users to get and read their messages
  3. Users can comment on other Tweets

Uber:

  1. User can press one button on the Uber app to get a car to come to their address.
  2. Users are charged time and distance, through the app.
  3. User gets out of car and ride is completed.

The above are all billion+ dollar companies started with a few people and a simple product. They had a minimal product that did one thing GREAT.

They smartly spent more time figuring out how to get more users, and slowly added features as customers demanded them.

We know that you want to build the core, but try and not get caught up in all the other cool things that the app ‘could’ do. We should spend more time improving the core experience (UX, UI, etc) and add supplementary features as time and budget will allow.

A simple way to decide what features your app needs to make sure the app has a sufficient core + can be GREAT at doing that is to make a “Must Have vs Nice to Have” feature list.

Must Have vs. Nice to Have

Now that the core is understood, we can start figuring what the “Must Have’s VS Nice to Have”s” are on your product development roadmap. Put simply, we need to establish the things that HAVE to be in the app at launch, or it would be incomplete.

For example:

Must Have: User can sign up for an account with email and/or facebook (i.e one method) Nice to Have: User can sign up with Email, Facebook, Twitter, SMS, and Google+”

OR

Must Have: User can pay with a credit card inside the app
Nice to Have: User can sign up with Email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SMS, and Google+”

Every situation is different, but we need to figure out if these extra features are in the product’s core, or they simply supplement it. If they supplement it, it can wait till a 1.1+ version, or never…

Design

Our very first step for the design process is we ask for the client to make some quick mockups of how they’d like the product to function. Some of our clients are initially put off of by this, but it’s simply an exercise to understand how they invision the initial flow of app’s core and to reaffirm what is important for the app.

After we get the ‘core’ of the app drawn out, we then ask the client their favorite:

  1. Top 3-5 Apps for Usability / UX
  2. Top 3-5 Apps for Design / Aesthetics
  3. Top 3-5 Apps in their Market / Industry

We also find a few similar apps in a related industry and will provide a few of our favorites, but this is just another exercise to understand what the client finds important.

For example, if you wanted an “Uber for Waffle Delivery” we’d first mock-up Uber, but would then include GREAT companies using this model such as a “Uber”, “Uber for Flower Delivery” “Uber for Helicopters” etc. (if applicable)

After we determine the basics of what is expected by the client, we then start our first true design phase, User Experience.