“To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed” – Steve Jobs
You know you have an incredible idea with which you could disrupt the market. But to do that, you need first to transform it into a software product. And you’re possibly wondering what the starting point is, and at what stage you need to take to the market. You’re worried because you know of people who did not make an impact despite their great idea. These thoughts are but natural and every entrepreneur goes through them.
I’ve had the fortune of working with multiple founders at various stages of their product, from bootstrap to scale and even through rounds of venture capital funding. And through the years of building products for entrepreneurs and conducting ideation workshops, I’ve come across some typical misconceptions about product bootstrapping which I’d like to share. These notions could potentially spoil your fantastic product idea.
“I’ll marry two products to create a new one.”
People tend to use multiple applications to address their different needs. And, you feel that your product would give them the best of two or more worlds. It seems quite apparent that people would gravitate towards your unified solution instead of multiple products to fulfil their needs. This is not a wrong notion. It has worked remarkably well in the space of bill payments and bookings. However, you must not underestimate the products you are trying to marry.
For example, a platform that combines Facebook and TikTok to form a third application might sound like a great idea theoretically. But users are already accustomed to these features that have evolved to perfection over years, therefore you need to set aside that kind of time and money for your application. If you take a step back, you might realize that this is not how your idea first took shape.
It all possibly began by assessing a specific user need and providing a solution for that. Simply put, it’s essential to do one thing and do it well rather than offering a suite of features that individually pack no punch.
“I’ll launch only when my product is highly feature-rich.”
At every stage of product development, it might feel like what has been built is not enough, “We need more power, Scotty!”. Also, the realization that all funds have been exhausted in the process of developing the product and its several features is the worst nightmare for any founder. This is where the power of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) kicks in. It is crucial to scope your MVP and take it to the market on time.
Here’s a quick cheat-sheet to channel your MVP scoping:
- Identify the type of users that will use your system – the user personas (keep this to the bare minimum).
- Assess what each persona’s most critical needs are.
- Drive the features and user-flows based on the personas and their needs.
- Decide if it needs to be a Mobile Application or a Responsive Web Application.
- Get this roughly estimated as a function of UX and Engineering.
Now, here’s the hard part – you’ll realize that this is too much in terms of time and effort. You will have to go back and trim the scope. “Trimming” doesn’t necessarily mean cutting out features, but just a matter of simplifying the process.
For example, as an admin, you could try and do a few backend tasks manually at the beginning instead of having a fully automated system in place. Once you have your well-scoped MVP that has your core value proposition at the heart of it, you can easily plan to take it to the market predictably.
“The market is large enough, and I don’t need a differentiator.”
Many a time, I’ve heard very compelling thoughts around the key numbers associated with a product – the user base. The math around this would start with a pretty vast target market, followed by something like – “even if we just had 1% of that as our market size, we’d be sorted”. These numbers might seem accurate, but users seldom start using a product just because it exists.
As I mentioned earlier, everything begins with a need. A product that has been built to address that need uniquely is the differentiator that will drive customer adoption. This differentiator will also go a long way in adding value to your sales and marketing efforts. Though your target market might be large, your product could end up having the effect of a pebble thrown into the sea. The differentiator is everything.
“I must have AI and ML handle most operations.”
Everyone is excited about artificial intelligence and machine learning. They are here to stay, no doubt. You know that the roadmap of your product includes automated capabilities that are beyond a simple rule-based engine. Isn’t it best to build that capability from day 1, so that when you hit the market, you arrive in style? Well, there are two scenarios, and you will have to think hard about which bucket you fall into.
The first bucket is a product that can provide the solution to the user’s need through a rule-based engine. However, over time, it would be better for the operations to scale if AI and ML programming is in place. An example of this would be a sophisticated decisioning engine. The second bucket is where your product’s core value proposition is based on AI and ML. For example, a system that uses advanced facial recognition to cross-reference a vast database for identifying crime suspects.
Did you spot the difference here? In one case, without AI and ML, there is no product, but in the other, you can build the MVP without AI and ML and, over time, introduce that capability. Remember, Machine Learning is experimental and is going to need tons of data and lot of time to get to production. You must prepare yourself from a cost and time perspective to include it in the get-go.
“I must pick a VC-Friendly tech-stack.”
It’s essential to ensure that you don’t eventually face a VC with an un-cool technology stack, right? Well, every programming paradigm is meant to be used in a particular way. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, and more importantly, a purpose. But there is nothing called un-cool tech, only an un-cool notion of looking down upon technologies because they may be a little old. Remember, with age comes maturity. It would be best to choose your tech-stack based on the nature of the platform.
For example, you’d need to look at the kind of client-server chatter you’re expecting, the nature of data – structured or unstructured, the intensity of server-side processing & IO operations, and the sort of activity you expect on the UI, to name a few.
A great example of a “Tech-pick for the VC” is the Blockchain. Blockchain is an excellent distributed, immutable, and secure network and is advantageous in a host of use-cases. But it can’t be crammed in a product where it does not belong with claims of replacing the database. I know you’re smiling, but I’ve actually heard that one.
On A Final Note…
I’d like to conclude with an altered dialogue from the film V For Vendetta. “Beneath the hood of your software product, there is more than just technology and frameworks. Beneath the hood, there is an idea. And ideas are bullet-proof.” I hope this article was helpful in re-addressing and fortifying your core idea. I wish you all the very best in transforming your idea into a successful product.