How to plan a new startup product

1. Set a goal date for the MVP 

It’s important you set a goal date to avoid Parkinson’s law, which says work expands to fill time allotted. But be generous and don’t underestimate the amount of work involved. Make sure you are moving toward your MVP and NOT a full-featured production product. This will save you money and reduce the risk of an already risky startup venture.

An MVP consists of the minimum features required to get initial feedback from customers. For example, if you were trying to build a chat application a good MVP would be a simple website (not pretty) that allowed 2 people to talk to one another in the simplest way possible.

2. Get some customer feedback by asking questions

A crucial yet widely skipped step is customer validation / research. Before even planning your product it might be nice to see whether 1. It solves an actual problem and 2. Are there people who will actually pay for it?

I learned this the hard way after many failed products and startups, so please learn from the mistakes of past entrepreneurs. As a startup founder the tendency is to think you can predict the future and that you are right no matter the facts. Again I’m speaking to myself first.

The best way to combat this is to take a more scientific approach to your concept. Without beating a dead horse, check out any of Steve Blanks startup books and even Josh Kaufman in his book Person MBA suggests this method. They will be able to go into far more detail than I can here. 

3. Determine what features your product really NEEDS

One thing you’re going to want to avoid is what some call scope creep. I get it, I’ve been there, but wanting the initial version of your product to have all the bells and whistles and be ready to serve thousands is more often than not, a waste of time.

Chances are that most of the features you think your users want, they don’t. It may even be that the ones you think will never work are the ones they love the most. Keep the previous point in mind about making sure to ask questions and try to squeeze in a few teasers about things you’d like to add and see what the response is. 

4. Set reasonable daily goals to measure progress

You shouldn’t just set a goal date as mentioned in the beginning of this article, but you should define how exactly you’re going to make that happen

It will help you set daily attainable goals that you and your team can meet without going crazy. Remember to keep it manageable, most of us can’t work 8 hours straight per day so make sure to factor in breaks and unforeseen roadblocks.

The key is knowing what progress looks like. Sometimes a simple question such as “Are we closer to our goal than we were last [week, month, etc]” 

Agile methodology will also help losing a lot of time working on something that you decide to change directions on half way through. At it’s simplest, try two week sprints where you jot down your deliverables at the beginning and review your performance at the end.

5. Decide whether you want to work with a freelancer vs an agency

Okay now I will try to do my best to remain unbiased when addressing this topic since I’m a freelancer, but hopefully I can give a little insight into the types and sizes of businesses that benefit from working with either a freelancer or an agency.

Now you might already have a preference, but I’d suggest to think little more about the “why”. If you think working with an agency will make you seem more legit, you’re wrong. On the other hand, if you think working with a freelancer with result in a better product at lower cost, again you probably reaching your conclusions too soon.

While either of these are possible, I’m going to suggest you to choose your path based on an entirely different set of assumptions.

If you’re a small team and want to have the ability to communicate more regularly and have better flexibility to change things on the fly, you’re going to want to work with an experienced freelancer.

Why?

Well often you can work 1-on-1 with the person doing the coding, design, etc. For example, you can have can work with an expert web designer to dial down how you want your app to look then bring those designs to me (a freelance developer) to implement them. This benefits both parties because these different skillsets have different obstacles and different focuses.

Secondly, if you’re a larger team and are maybe looking to build a more stable product for your next round of financing you’re probably going to want to go with an agency. For one, you have the money and second you have a large enough team where you already have had to work out communication (you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t).

6. Make sure you have cash in the bank

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the last point. But count the cost. Don’t start this process without having a good cash reserve in the bank.

Make sure you’ve already done your initial fundraising, whether that’s self-funding (preferable) or a small family and friends round. Make sure you have enough money to cover both product development as well as other aspects of the business.

In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Now, I’m not saying to skimp on a cheap developer, but I am saying that you shouldn’t be broke with a brand new shiny product and no money to pay the rent.

Use your better judgment on this one, it’s pretty much common sense for the most part.

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6 Comments

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