Do you have a problem that you are passionate about solving? Before you hire a development shop and build out your solution, you want to have a clear idea of your product roadmap ahead of you.
Start by verifying you’re confident with your answers to the following questions:
- Is the problem worth solving?
- Why are you the person (or team) to solve this problem?
- Do you have potential customers that are excited just at the idea that you could solve this problem?
- Are you committed and passionate enough? When the journey ahead of you gets tough, will you do anything to persist in order to solve this problem?
If you cannot answer these with the highest level of confidence, consider returning to the Problem Exploration phase to check your work.
Alternatively, if you have done so much customer discovery and validation that you are teeming with ideas and soaring with confidence, let’s move into Solution Finding.
Your first step is to get out of your own way.
You are not Your Customer
The solution that you found may work for you and some others. Yet, you have no evidence that it will work for a lot of other people, enough so to make this a business.
Many entrepreneurs get started because they experienced the problem themselves. Understand that being a victim of a problem does not necessarily bestow you the power to see the solution.
Maybe you like the solution but no one else wants to do it your way. Is this possible? In order to move successfully forward, you should be open to the solution NOT being what you originally thought to build.
Create Your Product Roadmap with Your Customers
If you know your Most Valuable Problem, that problem customers are dying for you to solve, then you can take the easiest path forward: Co-create the solution with your customers.
The entrepreneurs that understand this concept know that they can build real businesses by involving their customers early and often. They can find customers before they design & build products.
These founders know two things:
- Startups are less risky when you have customers involved in designing your product, and
- Nothing’s better than having customers waiting to buy your product before it’s even ready.
Developing a Product that Offers a Solution
From my Innovation Cycle Framework (which replaces Product-Market Fit), the second stage is Solution Finding. Inside this stage, you should seek to meet the next three benchmarks:
- Value / Prototype Fit
- Prototype / Pilot Fit
- Pilot / Product Fit
The new stages when you are solution finding reflect MULTIPLE ITERATIONS. It is not so simple to go from building a Minimal Viable Product to finding product-market fit. You should not burn holes in your pockets by investing a lot up front to figure out if your solution is on target.
The best product roadmaps are strategic. By going from value to prototype, prototype to pilot and then pilot to product, you are de-risking your investment at each stage.
You want to find out what your early customers respond well to before expanding the feature set. You’ll update your roadmap along the way.
Evaluate in each stage:
- Does our way of solving the problem address the needs of our current audience?
- Does adding this feature or that feature capture a slightly larger audience size?
- Do we have the exact right features to launch to a bigger market?
As you move through each of these stages, the feature set expands, the audience expands and morphs, and you’re eliminating a lot of guesswork.
Value / Prototype Fit
When you’re analyzing your research from the previous Problem Exploring stages, you came up with a lot of solutions. Looking at those solutions, there are bound to be a few that have market potential.
Once you have dialed into the solution you’d like to move forward with, popular advice is going to push you towards developing a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).
Don’t Pay Anyone for Your First Prototype
Your MVP does not need to be something coded. It is just a placeholder or cheap prototype that builds interest while simultaneously giving you tons of extremely valuable information you can use when it is time to make a significant monetary investment.
The important thing here is that you do not actually build out an entire solution; you should not be shelling out significant funds and time. Instead, a sketch or manual productized-service will do just fine.
- Need to have a test or assessment? Perhaps you can use TypeForm or another survey/quiz tool to mimic what you want to accomplish.
- Do you want to offer search and a database for members? AirTable may be able to offer you a temporary solution.
- Would you like event listings? EventBrite has embed code you can put on a simple WordPress or SquareSpace website.
When going from value to prototype, these are your key considerations:
- Include only the minimal features needed to solve the problem
- Leave out features that aren’t necessary to prove the concept
- Determine whether customers would pay you to solve the problem your way
Prototype / Pilot
Now you are confident that your solution is taking an approach that your early-vangelists (that super niche-y first customer group) are interested in. With this confidence, it’s time to figure out what you can build and automate using the resources at your disposal, versus what you hire others to do for you.
Just like in the previous stage, you want to be very specific with what you actually invest in coding versus where you can use readily available tools.
Start Working on the Basics of Marketing, too
During this phase, you are also practicing your messaging by interacting with customers as you onboard them. You should be taking phone calls, chatting with them on Facebook Messenger, and sending them quick feedback forms.
After each interaction, take a step back and ask yourself, “Is the language I’m using to recruit existing and new customers to my pilot compelling?”
If it’s compelling, your ideal customer should be saying “yes” to you more than they are saying “no.”
To meet Prototype / Pilot Fit, your primary goal is to add features and technology so customers can derive value with less of you involved.
- Figure out how long it takes to deliver value to your customer
- Get to a basic number of users onboard so that you can deliver value
- Still doing a few things manually but you’re increasing the feature set to remove you from some of the value creation
- Obtain some early case studies
Pilot / Product
By now you have many tools in your toolbox that are helping you decide which features to build and which features are just not important. Your product or service solves a problem. By solving this problem, you’re providing value to your customer in exchange for something in return (money? data?).
Product-Market Fit Means People are Using Your Product
How do you define success? How do you know that the time you’re spending is leading to progress being made towards your goals?
You want to define and track key metrics to optimize your time and effort. You also want to use them to communicate with investors and stakeholders about how effectively you’re able to achieve your goals.
To reach Pilot / Product, your customers should not need you to derive value from your product. The one key metric you need to track is “Are people using my product?”
You’ll want to make sure that new users can address the most valuable problem without having you handhold them through the process.
Some milestones that show you’ve met Pilot / Product Fit
- Your audience looks less like your early-vangelist and more like your bigger Target Market
- You have the tools and capabilities to measure your key metrics
- Your testing different distribution channels and aligning with strategic partners
- With some users deriving value without you, you should be seeing early referrals and organic sign-ups.
Remember that as you move through these 3 solution benchmarks (Value / Prototype, Prototype / Pilot, and Pilot / Product) you are marketing your business through mini-launches. All the while, you’re gathering feedback and involving customers in the development of your product. This should all build your confidence to move onto the final 2 benchmarks and growth.