I have often been asked by product folks how I get ideas for new product features.
A more interesting question would be how do you figure out the right problems to solve among the various problems you could possibly solve. Solving the right problems or building the right features is essential to building a great product. But that is a topic for another post.
In this post, I will list down the various sources from where I get new product ideas. Please note that I will not be making any distinctions among these product ideas and whether they are Small Optimizations, New Features, Disruptive Features or Distractions. I will cover the classification of product ideas and how you prioritize these ideas in my next post.
My Own Ideas
Like other product folks, I get new ideas for what can be done in the product almost multiple times a day or at least few times a week. These ideas are generally a mix of small optimizations or improvements and large game-changing features. There is no process I follow to come up with these ideas. I am able to think of these ideas by:
- Thinking hard about the various solutions to a particular problem we wish to solve such as improve onboarding to increase conversions, reduce churn etc.
- Using the product and generally noticing some improvements we could make to some workflow or feature.
- Not actually thinking hard about product ideas. I have come across new ideas randomly while on a run, in the shower etc.
- Understanding where the market is moving and then creating a list of ideas we could work on in order to be competitive and to continue to add value to customers.
My colleagues from various teams such as sales, success and engineering often talk to me or send me a message on Slack with ideas they have for the product. These are ideas they might have thought of on their own or heard from a customer, colleague, friend etc. Some of these ideas are genuine game-changers. And some can be ineffective especially when they don’t impact a majority of our customers or happen to be in a product space that is ancillary to ours.
Founders (and sometimes advisors as well) are also always thinking about how to iterate and build on our product especially with the long-term in mind. Founders tend to speak with the customers regularly and have a pulse on where the market is going. This means that a number of game-changing ideas flow in from them.
Your customers would generally have dozens of ideas on how you can improve the product so that they can benefit from it. However, if you closely analyze the ideas you get from your customers, you will realize that customers’ tend to contribute their ideas in two ways:
- Intentional Ideas: Customers always want you to work on new things — improve features, implement additional ones, build other products etc. These are explicit requests and can sometimes be a source of great product ideas. You could get these requests through incoming emails from customers or verbal requests in sales meetings and customer development meetings run by product managers.
- Unintentional Ideas: In addition to ideas that your customers specifically want you to work on, you will see that customers end up contributing product ideas without even knowing that they are doing so. The customers might not realize that something they said in passing could become a useful product idea for you. Go through the support issues reported by customers or just observe in-person how your customers use your product or note down things that customers are talking about in your calls with them, to build a list of such unintentional ideas.
Yes it’s perfectly fine to seek inspiration from your competitors. As long as it’s not your only strategy to innovate on your product, it’s perfectly fine to keep track of what your competitors are up to and sometimes implement their ideas in your product. Your competitors have equally smart folks working for them. They might have an idea that you might not have thought of. Track the blog of your competitors for product release announcements or check out their product from time-to-time to understand what they have been up to.
You should maintain a list of all these ideas in a Google Sheet (or Excel), or even a project management tool like Asana or JIRA. Over time your list is likely to run into hundreds of such items. So what should you do once you’ve built a long list of such items? How do you decide what to work on and how to move ahead? I’ll cover all this and more in my next blog post.