20 Lessons I Learned Building My First Product

Reflections from a Webs Product Owner

Webs Local Business Listings

What Was I Building?

The Vistaprint Local Search Product helps small business owners automatically claim their directory listings on over 100 directories online, including Google, YP.com, and Yahoo.

This product was built in 2009 and a team at Webs (subsidiary of Vistaprint) started building a new version of the product in mid-2014.

The updated product was launched on Webs in October 2014 and was iteratively improved through February 2015. In March-April 2015, the product will be migrated to replace Local Search on Vistaprint.

Test out the product for yourself and let me know what you think! www.webs.com/features/local-business-listings

What Did I Learn?

In Chronological Order

1. Sometimes great products with great markets are diamonds in the rough.

2. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. When someone off your team builds part of your product, you’ve created a dependency.

3. I need to learn way more about technical architecture.

4. Get a product to users as fast as possible, even if you’re still pulling all the strings behind the scenes.

5. There’s a fine line between MVP and shipping crap.

6. It’s difficult to determine when a product is ready to launch, but it’s the Product Owner’s job to explain the value of learning from real users to the team.

7. Every launch should include at least 1 thing you’ve never done before.

8. Product Owners need to market and promote too.

9. Feedback can be Painful, but suck it up and listen for The Most Painful and Most Repetitive Experiences

10. More data, measurement, and feedback is always better, especially with a new product.

11. UserTesting/User Simulation is the most important thing you can do as a Product Manager when you launch a new product.

12. Sometimes you need to backtrack to get on the right path.

13. Phase II’s (Post MVP work) are exciting. It’s where you get to take what you learned from real users in the MVP and put work against it.

14. Stability isn’t sexy. But downtime is even uglier.

15. Shower your users with feelings of success and they’ll stick around.

16. Learn why something isn’t working quickly. Fix it. Measure the results.

17. UserTesting is great. When you see improvements based on your work, its incredible.

18. Qualaroo can serve many purposes for a new product (feedback, promo codes, instruction) and can target customers incredibly well.

19. Once you’ve built momentum, it’s tough to stop building.

20. You get what you pay for with partners.


Great Decisions in Building My First Product

1. Internal and UserTesting: If you’re not doing these as a product owner, you’re not doing your job.

2. Launch strategy: Have a diverse launch strategy because you don’t know what channel will resonate strongest with your customers. Once you find that channel: scale, Scale, SCALE!

3. “Show Success Sooner”: Make sure customers feel like they are getting more than what they are paying for and make that feeling happen as quickly as possible.

4. Spending a lot of time with users: Beyond internal and external testing, you should be simulating, emailing, and surveying your users consistently.


Poor Decisions in Building My First Product

1. Splitting Team: We had a few key contributors to the project at a different location, on a different team, with a different schedule. This created a project-long dependency that slowed our progress.

2. Devs Not Meeting in Person: Make sure all of your team members and contributors have met before. It sounds old-fashioned, but building these relationships early on will save you headaches later.

3. Not Enough Focus Initially on Architecture and Stability: It goes without saying that these parts of an application are incredibly important. Build smart early on or get bitten in the ass later.

4. Error Monitoring: Set up your tracking before errors occur, not after.


What Was Building Your First Product Like?

I hope the lessons I learned from building the Local Listings product were valuable to you and will help you improve the decisions you make when you build your first (or next) product.

I’d love to hear what similarities or differences others have experienced when they built their first product.

Please feel free to share your first-time product experiences in the comments or over Twitter.