Welcome to the series How to build a tech product. This article covers, the things to consider before starting to build your tech product.
A product I was helping build in the recent past was at a key decision point before kicking off their product build out. The company was building a marketplace for adventure travel where adventure tour operators made up the supply side of the marketplace & adventure travel seekers (end consumers) made up the demand side. After we scoped out the business requirements for both the demand and the supply side of the marketplace, we started estimating the project at hand. While the company had raised a small angel round, the effort and costs involved were way above what the founders had imagined. One estimation value lept out, the effort needed to build the self serve supply side functionality was nearly half of the total estimated effort to build the marketplace. A key decision needed to be made - should we build the self service supply side functionality as imagined or should we cut down the functionality?
To start anything new you have to deal with uncertainty and as a key stakeholder your job is to remove this uncertainty and set a path forward. It would be ideal to have the ability to look into the future and course correct. Unfortunately, no one has that ability and one cannot know what's the best course of action to build a tech product given a set of choices.
To help make these crucial decisions as a product builder you need to start by listing down your options and pick an option on basis of the information you have at hand. The more exhaustive your list of options the better informed your decision making process will be.
This decision making process is tough and it takes a lot of time and energy, both from you and your team. To help make these decisions easier, you need to map your business goals to your product. Below are some questions that can help with creating this map. The answers to these type of questions will help in almost all cases when you are at a crossroads and you need to pick the best path forward for your product.
What are the key success factors for your product?
Success factors can be different for different type of products. For example - For a startup looking to raise the next round of funding for their B2C app, orders placed can be a key success factor. Whereas for a product in the B2B space it could be free usage leading to paid conversions i.e. the revenue your product generates
What key pain areas does the product solve?
All products exist to alleviate a pain or fulfill a need. Pain areas should be the key reason why someone chooses to pay for (or use) the product you are building
Who is the product being built for?
Define your user persona as clearly as possible, here are some examples of well defined user personas
- On field sales team of enterprises having less than 100 employees with low to medium level of tech product usage experience
- Tech savvy freelancing accountants who are power users of MS Excel
- Adventure travel junkies looking for the best deals for their next trip & tech averse tour operators looking to sell their trips
For some businesses, business goal definitions can be more complex and will require you to go beyond just the above set of questions. I consider myself as a learner and nowhere near an expert when it comes to defining business goals. And thus, to the reader, my suggestion would be to go beyond these questions. Go through this exercise, if you haven't already, trust me it will help you in more than just your product build.
Your business goals should be used as a reference whenever you are at a decision making point in your product build out
In our adventure travel marketplace product build, we were at a decision point. We had to decide whether we should build the complete self service supply side functionality. Our decision was guided by the user landscape the company operates in & the companies key business goals
- Primary key success factor at the current stage of the company was growing the number of bookings on the platform MoM.
- Pain area for the supply side (tour operators) was simply sell as much of their inventory as possible and not providing them an online trip publishing or managing payments for their trips.
- Last but certainly not the least, the supply side user (adventure tour operator) is usually on the field in remote places running their trips with sketchy access to the Internet. Moreover the company wanted to focus first on adventure travel operators based in India, where tech literacy was very low.
As you can imagine, all these 3 points put together helped make the decision easy. We decided to do away with a full fledged self serve console for the tour operator in the 1st phase of the project. As a workaround, tours and trips were to uploaded by internal support staff using an internally used admin dashboard. Excel formats were created to make the job of uploading trips in bulk easier and more efficient.
We were able to bring down the timeline & costs for project delivery by nearly half with no impact to any of the key business metrics.
On the topic of business goal definition there is so much great reference material available. I have linked a few, that I have personally found insightful & find myself referring back to.
👉 The Job your Product Does - by Prof. Clayton Christensen
This is a masterclass on defining the job of your product & disruptive innovation
👉 Mental models for startup founders - by Paras Chopra
Effective mental models for startup founders and business leaders
Now that we have defined the business goal of your product, lets begin to define the scope of your product i.e. Documenting your product requirements