Why you should invest into building a great product early on

Anthony Douglas, founder and CEO of Hole19

The title might sound pretty obvious to most; doesn’t everyone strive for greatness when launching their company or product?

In the world of startups, the common mantra is to build an MVP (minimum viable product) to quickly validate your hypotheses before investing more time, resources & money into the development of a product or service. This was made popular through Eric Ries’ book “Lean Startup” and became the playbook for many startups. It basically means building the product which has just enough features (and no more) that allows you to ship a product that resonates with early adopters; some of whom will pay you money or give you valuable feedback. This might also mean that the product will not look as good as you know it can, for the sake of time to market (which is probably one of the most important factors of success).

With products that are web-based, you can iterate very quickly and test out things like landing page conversion, clickthrough rates and even payment. Which is why I firmly believe that building an MVP is definitely the way to go for web-based services or products. I learnt the hard way early on in trying to build a complete solution all at once, only to later find out that we had partly built a product that nobody wanted. This was before the word “startup” became popular in Portugal.

Times have changed.

Today we hear of a new startup emerging in Portugal nearly every week; seed financing is as accessible as it has ever been (with funds such as Faber Ventures, Caixa Capital and Portugal Ventures); and the press has paid a lot of attention to young entrepreneurs, which can help a startup get off the ground quickly. The cost of building a product has also decreased dramatically, as today there are many platforms readily available for you to leverage in order to build out a solid MVP to validate your business model quickly.

While on one side the ability to build out a product has become easier, the expectation of the user has become far more sophisticated. If we look at mobile apps in particular, users or customers are much pickier with which icons rent the real-estate on their home screen. If you are looking to build a mobile app, it is your goal to make sure you get a long-term lease on that screen real estate. The only real way to do this is by simply building a great product.

Oh if only it were that simple.

Andrew Chen, a “guru” of mobile metrics and growth who now leads driver acquisition programs for the Growth team at Uber, recently wrote a post about the MDP — Minimum Desirable Product. He goes on to state that this is the simplest experience necessary to prove out a high-value, satisfying product experience for users.

In the world of mobile applications, we don’t always have the luxury of iterating quickly (due to sometimes lengthy review processes) and at the same time you are being benchmarked against top performing apps such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Uber which are part of the mobile enthusiasts day-to-day life. You most likely don’t have the same engineering power as these behemoths so probably the only way you can stand out is by building a real solid user experience and differentiating design.

By investing into all aspects of product development early on, you should specifically focus on the following:

  • respecting the design guidelines of the Operating System you are building for (a Google type design might not always work on the iOS platform)
  • leveraging the latest technologies that the platforms you are working on make available
  • integrate the most suitable analytics platform from the beginning so that you can understand the usage patterns early on

So what exactly are the benefits of investing into building a great product early on:

Team:

Remember, every product is a reflection of the team behind it. Just as the user interface is the channel between a user and the functionality of a product, the actual product is the channel between users/customers and the team of people solving the problem.

I was reminded of this recently, during a hiring interview with a young & talented software engineer. When I asked him why he was interested in joining our team, and his reply really resonated with me: “I can tell from the delivery of the product that you work well as team and pay attention to detail. The product tells me that this is a place where I could learn and make a difference. It made me think. Just by looking at our product, he was able to decipher that we worked well as a team.

So by investing into building a great product, not only do you delight and retain your users, but you also attract top talent for your company which will always be the greatest asset your company will have — the team. As more startups emerge onto the scene with more funding opportunities, the harder it becomes to recruit talent. You will need every edge you can get and if you can leverage your product development to attract talent, then you know that those software engineers, designers or marketeers will be a great fit for you, since they appreciate good design and a great user experience.

Financing:

When reaching out to investors in the early days of Hole19, I hit a a lot of brick walls with investors not wanting to invest into a mobile product such as ours. While it is obviously great if you can build & scale a startup early on based on revenues (the so-called bootstrap), many startups eventually look at financing to fuel their growth or get their business off the ground. I actually went through 87 meetings with investors and probably 10 different variations of my deck before I got my first cheque. The funniest part of the story? The 88th meeting with the investor that eventually said yes, went really well mainly because of the user experience & design of the product we had built. I will never forget the words: “If your team can build such a great product with the limited resources you have had so far, imagine what you could do with money”. Focusing on building a great product can help you gain the interest of investors that are product focused and can help you grow.

Distribution:

“Build it and they will come” — that is one sentence that makes me cringe every time I hear it. Distribution is by far the most underrated topic and first-time founders don’t think enough about it. It is probably also one of the most important. Not everyone is as lucky to have crazy “virality” and have organic growth that jumpstarts your path to success. By investing into the technology that you build, the user experience that you design and the level of customer service that you deliver, it will be more likely that the larger distribution platforms such as Apple or Google will reach out to you in order to work with you on promotional efforts. Being featured on one of those platforms can be the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of euros in advertising spend, which we all know are hard to come by.

Many people talk of Lisbon being the next Berlin, or London’s sunny little brother. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other cities or ecosystems. We should much rather focus on what we are good at and I would love for people to just say that amazing products are being built out of Lisbon. We have all the right ingredients, now we just need to figure out the best recipe.


If you’re also obsessed with building world-class products, then find out a bit more about how you can join the team on www.hole19golf.com/jobs

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