Having some certainty that a digital product idea will work can save you a lot of time, money and energy. But how do you know you have a good idea?
Here are a few principles we use when working on something new.
Build on What You Know
By far, the biggest factor in a product’s success is the market. Are there enough customers that need what you’re making? And how desperate are they for your solution?
So why not prioritize ideas in markets that you genuinely like and already know a lot about?
This is like having a head start in a race. You won’t need to do as much upfront work to start.
Remember that you’re not your customer. You’re making something for others. So the best thing you can do is get your idea in front of other people as soon as possible.
You want to learn if people are desperate for what you’re making. The sooner you find this out, the sooner you’ll know whether this idea is worth your time.
As creatives, we do this all the time when we make something for ourselves.
When you make something for yourself, you’re debating the second the idea originates in your mind whether it’s something you’d use.
The good news is, you don’t have to do a lot of work to test digital product ideas.
Testing as Early as a Conversation
Don’t underestimate how quickly you can get feedback on an idea. It can start as simple as a chat with a friend.
And you don’t have to mention the idea. It’s actually best that you don’t so you don’t bias the scenario.
Instead, talk about the problem your product solves. See if they share that problem. Learn how deeply it affects them.
Think like an interviewer: Be interested. Listen for emotional spikes. Dig into those.
Make the Smallest Version of Your Product
The absolute best way to validate your idea is to make it. (Kind of).
When you start working on your product, you’ll have many great ideas. You’ll want to work on all of them. Don’t.
The last thing you want is to spend a lot of time and energy making something that no one will use.
Instead, build the simplest version of your product first. This is also known as the Minimum-Viable-Product (MVP).
You want to build only the features that are critical.
For example, if a lot of people are asking you to share your writing, you could build a blog in less than a day, or you can build a blog over several months.
You could have a blog with many different features. A filter that lets readers discover content. Different post templates. A search feature.
But if your goal is to share your writing, the only feature that matters is a page that lists your posts. This feature alone will address the needs of your users.
Taking this route, you could spin up a blog in less than 10 minutes with a blog engine.
Blog example aside, you’d be surprised how many ideas you could test with a landing page and a spreadsheet.
The best advice I’ve heard for this is: Think in weeks, not months.
What would your idea look like if you only had 6 weeks to complete it? How about 4 weeks? How about 2?
Make The Smallest Version of Every Feature
You also want to boil the core features down to their simplest forms.
There are many blog engines to choose from. But if you want to boot up really fast, maybe you choose e-mail. Or SMS.
This will eliminate a ton of the work involved in finding, comparing and configuring a blog engine.
Find the simplest version of every feature. When you’re just validating an idea, your goal is to test something with real users, as soon as possible.
Set Clear Goals
Before you test something, you have to know what you’re hoping to find out. You want to clear goals.
Back to the blog example: Getting people to visit your homepage and read a blog post is a good goal. But even better if you can get more specific:
How much reading is sufficient? Do you want people to read every word of a post, or would getting through a certain % be considered successful?
Let’s look at other examples:
Are you looking for people to download your app? How many? By when?
Do you want users to come back to your app? How often? And for how long?
You also want to set goals that are realistic.
Set Realistic Goals
Having folks engage with all 20 of your blog posts the first time they hit your site is probably unrealistic (unless you’re Tim Urban of course). One post though? That’s pretty realistic.
Now, setting realistic goals is a guessing game. Second-hand research can help you get a sense of what’s possible. But it’s also a process of trial-and-error.
You’ll set a goal. You might realize it’s too big to achieve. You’ll cut it into smaller goals, and then you’ll try again.
The goal is a tool that helps you measure whether your solution is effective for your users. Which brings me to my next point..
Plan For Multiple Iterations
The most realistic goal you can set is that you’ll need to give your solution multiple tries.
Now the question of how many iterations is a good one. What I can say for sure is: You’ll definitely need more than one.
Amazon started out selling just books. Twitch started with one channel. Airbnb started with one property.
These platforms all got it wrong on the first go. But they listened to their customers, iterated on their solutions, and the rest is history.
Learn to Listen Better
Good product designers, developers and teams are really good at listening.
You want to be really attentive to your users.
Where are they using your product? When do they use it? What’s their emotional experience with it? Where are they neutral? Where are they frustrated? Where are they excited?
This often looks like surveys, interviews and usability testing.
And Listen More Often
Things change. Trends, mental models, sentiment. You want to be ahead of this.
Imagine how tight your product development process would be if you could get regular feedback from your users.
You’d know exactly what to focus on. You’d reduce rework. You’d motivate your team.
Weave user research into your sprint cycle. It’s a worthwhile goal.
A few users giving you regular feedback can help you define and build the right things.
I hope you found this helpful. As always, feel free to reach out and connect. We love hearing your thoughts.