Shining Products and Blind StartUp Founders

Many IT products start with brilliant ideas, and the idea is to help people live better lives. For the most part, this is a good kickoff for starting and maintaining a new business.

At the beginning of my career, I was fortunate enough to interact with clients face to face. 12 years later, I set off on a journey to show others how. The traditional way I conduced such activities was by to first performing some sort of interview or survey prior to constructing a solution for a client, and I felt it was important to instill such best practice within startups. Without finding out what people want, how do you know that your solution is meaningful?

By nature, we are enamored with our ideas. Perhaps we might be basing our solution on a need we have ourselves, but think “Surely, everyone will think this is a great idea. They might not yet know that they need it, but once they see it, they will”. Over and over again, I kept finding young entrepreneurs coming up with all kinds of solutions, and most of them never saw the importance of actually asking what people want or need. It didn’t matter what I tried, I kept struggling to get these startups to understand what they are doing wrong.

Then it was my turn…

This story happened in May of last year, I was a participant at a two-day hackathon as a Product Manager of what I considered to be a unique learning platform. This application just didn’t host content, but it was able to set up a personalized schedule per student. Surely everyone needs this, right?

During the hackathon, I had a number of conversations with potential mentors and clients and explained at length all the advantages of this unique learning system. To my surprise, virtually everyone I talked to could not see the advantage of this product. I was really confused, and a bit depressed. Doesn’t the world understand me?

Then it clicked….

The cardinal sin in product development is to be in love with your own ideas,1 and I caught myself doing exactly what I was accusing all these startups of doing! Luckily, I was able to recognize this early enough. We changed our approach to focus primarily on the customer needs.

What is the goal? It’s to build something that people want, not to convince them that my dream is fantastic. As it was, we were able to quickly regroup, start letting people talk….and we listened and started working on matching that of what we heard.

And it paid off….

Our final product at the end of the hackathon ended up looking much different, and we were able receive our first symbolic pre-payment. Victory!

This experience was truly a game-changer for me. I came to realize we ALL are guilty of setting our own ideas ahead of client needs. The products we create are really a reflection of those never-ending discussions with those people whose need we are trying to fulfill. If we don’t follow this path, we will soon realize that that diamond of a product is in fact only a lump of coal.