A hard-to-swallow truth we have to tell aspiring founders is this: building a startup is not for everyone. You need a special skillset and a particular mindset to be able to deal with the big and small decisions you have to make every day, and with the ups and downs, successes, and potential failures of building a startup.
People don’t just decide ‘I’m going to be a startup founder’ overnight. That’s mostly because they know it will be a challenging venture, that can upend their entire life, yet bring great success and satisfaction, but also devastating heartbreak.
Is there anything prospective founders can do to make the journey smoother and ensure they’re building a strong product? At Tapptitude, we’ve been helping founders develop successful mobile-first products for a while now, and we’ve learned some important lessons. Here’s a list of what we believe are 10 essential things every startup founder should know before launching a new product on the market.
1. Make sure the problem you’re trying to solve is real
Coming up with an innovative idea or concept for a new mobile product is the first step in the development process. However, even when you think you have a great idea that’s going to attract users like a magnet, you still need to make sure that is really the case. In other words, you need to validate – or invalidate – your product idea.
Before you start recruiting, investing, and developing your product, you should make sure that there is a real need for it on the market. We always place great emphasis in the product definition and discovery phase of the development process on the problem-solution fit. Providing a solution for something that has no market, in other words, for an imaginary problem, is one of the main reasons why many startups fail.
Through user interviews and market research, you can figure out if the problem you’re trying to solve really exists, and whether it exists for enough people. Remember, you want to solve a problem that affects enough people to make it worth building something and turning it into a scalable business. Do the work to validate the problem, the market, and only then, think about building the solution.
2. Figure out if people care enough about the problem you want to fix
Founders are essentially fixers because they build mobile products that aim to solve problems and make life easier for their users. Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware that not all things need fixing. If people don’t care enough about the identified problem to get it fixed, or if the existing workarounds are good enough for them, then coming up with a new solution is not going to be appealing enough to drive adoption.
You might have an idea for an awesome ride-sharing app that you think could improve people’s lives as they travel to their destinations. However, there might already be similar apps offering a similar solution on the market. If your product doesn’t bring something extra to the table, something to convince users to switch from the apps they’ve been using for a while to yours, you might want to reconsider. If the problem you want to solve is already being taken care of in one way or another by other products, you might not be able to reach enough people and persuade them to use – and keep using – your product instead.
3. Understand what your product is competing against
Research is a startup founder’s best friend. Dedicate as much time as possible to researching the market and understanding your target audience before developing a prototype or an MVP.
It’s important to know what and who your product will have to compete with once it’s launched on the market and figure out if you even have a shot at winning this competition. Research existing user behaviours and what’s driving them, alternatives to your solution, and most importantly, competitors.
It’s much easier to get your product adopted by users if you build it in a way that integrates into an existing behaviour, instead of forcing the user (very likely unsuccessfully!) to create a new behaviour from scratch. But to know which behaviours and mental models you want your product to address, you need to do your research – and lots of it. Don’t rush this stage of the process, as it can really make or break the success of your business.
4. Pick the right team for your product
Once you’ve validated your product idea, researched the market, and defined your target audience, it’s time to get started and build your product. Picking the right people to work on the project is another crucial step in the process. You’ve got a few options at your disposal as a founder.
You can work with freelancers, a local agency, a remote agency, or you can build your own team – it all depends on the skills and resources you need, your budget, and your timeline. If you want to get hands-on and enjoy the collaborative process, you might want to opt for your own team or a local agency, so you can all get together and brainstorm, fix issues, and bounce ideas off each other. If, on the other hand, time to market and an accessible budget are both priorities for you, you can work with remote agencies or freelancers.
Every option has its pros and cons, and the decision will depend on the specifics of your product and your business goals, as well as the specific type of strategic commitment you’re looking for in a partner, besides the delivery of your product’s development.
5. Remember that a good team fit beats the price, any day
We know that most startups don’t have a huge budget right off the bat. As a founder, you want to make the best of your available resources, because you’re aware it’s going to be a while until you start generating revenue.
However, one area where you do not want to skimp on is the staff you work with and the know-how they bring along. Evaluating the team who’s going to work on your product is so much more than comparing price points. And no, we’re not just saying it because we get paid for building products. A good fit is all about having the right experience on the type of product you’re building and getting an early alignment on what you expect from the team versus how they see themselves delivering value. And last, but not least, it’s about having the same language when you talk product. We don’t mean having the same native language, but finding that ‘vibe’ that makes you go ‘you too? I was thinking the same!’.
If you find the price point higher for a team that you align well with, consider what that alignment may save you in the long run, when you’re planning sprints, de-risking your product, fixing bugs and having difficult conversations that still end up in good places. Then imagine the same scenarios with the cheaper agency and consider if the short term savings are worth the long-term interests.
6. Plan a budget for at least 12 months
Planning your budget to build your product is great. But it’s not enough to have a development budget; instead, make sure you have a runway for 12 months, at least. The first year of a new product is by far the most challenging, and you need to make sure you can cover everything you’ll need, from iterating on your product to a go-to-market plan.
Many founders, when they plan their budgets, plan for building for the two platforms, iOS and Android. What they may not consider are the costs that come with maintaining the backend infrastructure needed to keep the app working once it’s live, or how those costs might increase as the app sees more users downloading it from the app stores. Not to mention, for an app to be known, it has to be marketed in the first place. Website costs, agency or in-house marketing team costs, and advertising costs are all things that should be taken into account for the first year of activity. We’ve long since passed the time when building a good product and launching it was enough to make for a successful product.
7. Build the right thing at the right time
When you’re first building a mobile product, you might be tempted to overbuild. Whether it’s because you’re thinking of delivering more than your value proposition or addressing more than your core market, you’ll spin more features alongside the core user flow than you’d need in your MVP without even realising.
While it might not be comfortable to start cutting down on your ideal product during the planning phase, the truth is you don’t need all the bells and whistles. And leaving them for later, even realising you don’t need them, won’t sabotage your success. Your goal in the definition phase of your journey is to derisk, derisk, and derisk some more. The point of the MVP you’re bringing to market is to test your product’s value hypothesis: is there a market need for my product? And for that, you shouldn’t build more than what’s strictly necessary, work with a team that’s bigger than you need, or overspend. Scale your team and spending once you have validation on your problem-solution fit, and only then work towards improving and scaling your product.
8. Make sure you’re in a defensible position
We’ve said before that you should not go all in building your MVP, and instead focus on a basic, functional version of the product that you want to build. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t focus your efforts on bringing something new to the table. To ensure you’re building a sustainable product in the long run, you’ll want to have an ‘unfair advantage.’
There has to be something you’re providing users with that your competitors aren’t managing to do. Whether it’s something completely new, or something already existing but you’ve decided to do 100% better, it’s up to you. What makes an unfair advantage unfair is:
- If the users feel they’re really missing out if they’re not using your product
- If it’s too expensive or even impossible as a business cost for your competitors to offer the same service you’re offering as your unfair advantage
If you’re not able to come up with a defensible competitive advantage, many mobile users will continue to use the same apps they’ve become accustomed to using if they’re doing ‘a good enough job.’ To convince these users to try something new, you’ll have to offer tangible value.
9. Have a go-to-market plan
Besides a 12-month budget, a valid product idea, and a team of skilled individuals, you will also need a solid go-to-market strategy for your new business. A go-to-market (GTM) plan helps you identify your target audience, your market, your business goals, and your product positioning. It’s a cohesive plan that brings all the different variables and moving parts of your business together, and it makes it easier for everyone involved to understand the entire process.
It’s important to include anything you deem important in this plan, from existing market conditions and the problems you want to solve, to your ideal customers and your strategies to attract and retain them. Customer acquisition is key for growth, so it’s crucial to pinpoint and establish just how you’re going to attract users and keep them interacting with your product.
Your GTM strategy should also include a marketing plan that details how you’re going to launch your product on the market and what channels you want to use to let the world know about your new business. This could include social media and email marketing, PR campaigns, paid ads, or anything else that you think is right for your new product.
10. Be ready to iterate and pivot
After you’ve done all the research and validation and budgeting, you’re finally ready to develop and launch your product to the masses. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the fun part of the process! Celebrate your wins, then get ready to keep your ears to the ground while the user feedback rolls in. We’ve already mentioned the MVP you’ve launched is probably not the version of the product you’re going to keep.
Between the user data you’ll be gathering and the competitors you’ll be monitoring, you’ll have to get a feel for what your customers want from you. From there, you can plan your roadmap and decide whether you’ll expand your product or pivot it. This will help you adjust and adapt your product to meet the demands of your users. Even if you’re losing traction with your app, don’t just give up, but try to switch things up and tweak your product to add more value for your users. Building a product is a constant iterative process. You have to be willing to take it on for the long run to reap the benefits of a successfully scaled product.
Before you go
You might have noticed that very few things on our list are related to de-risking your product idea. Instead, many of the things we’ve just discussed are related to de-risking your business venture as a whole. The fact of the matter is this: there is so much technical know-how in the market nowadays, and access to it is so easy, that building a product is pretty straightforward once you have a plan. It’s everything that supports a successful product launch that takes up more effort and planning. This includes knowing whether you’re building the right thing for the right audience, having a 12-month budget runway and what that actually means, having a go-to-market strategy, and knowing what to do with user feedback once you get it.
This is where Tapptitude can jump in and take on some of the heavy lifting, both in the planning and execution. Our approach is to help you build the right product, at the right time, with the right team, thus helping you de-risk your product and de-risk your spend. We’re the ideal partner if you’re looking for someone with whom to share the journey of building a product that delivers value at scale in the way you envision it.