5 mistakes to avoid when building your first product
Disclaimer: You can be an entrepreneur, a product manager, a student, or a hobbyist — in the game of fail fast-learn fast, the same rules still apply.
I just released the beta version for my first product, Bare Chats, and I spent ~1.5 years on/off doing the lovely test-learn-iterate process and am fresh with battle scars so you can cut down some time when it’s your turn.
1. Not be able to articulate your problem statement in 30 seconds or less
In the very beginning, I thought I was crystal clear on communicating which problem I was solving and why. I had the data points, qualitative insights from scrappy tests that I had ran, and user/market/competitive research to back me up. I came fully armed and ready whenever there was an opening to talk about Bare Chats because it felt like an alley-oop to share my passion for mental wellness.
It wasn’t until one of my advisors stopped me in the middle of my spiel and said, “Your approach is unique but wait, what problem did you say you were solving?”
I realized that I was misinterpreting the question. Instead of answering the second-level question, I was primarily focused on the surface-level one. I would hear “Okay, so what are you working on?” versus “What problem are you solving and why this one instead of a million others?”
Baked into the second-level question is a series of sub-questions that breaks out like this:
- What problem are you solving?
- Why are YOU solving this problem?
- Why is this problem interesting?
- Who are the type of people that have this problem?
- How many people have this problem? How big of a problem is it for them?
- Why did you prioritize this problem over the many other problems they are facing?
This is the crux of what Product people call the discovery phase/problem space where there is an intense focus on drilling down into the opportunity zone and crafting the narrative before you even begin to think about solutions (i.e., your million dollar idea).
If all of those questions made you a tad dizzy, stay with me because you have psychology in your favor.
Depending on the context of the conversation, most people’s attention spans are short — meaning that first, you need to have different versions of your answers ready and second, you need to be able to distill it down to layman’s terms in an entertaining and engaging way.
Some are saying our attention spans are shorter than a goldfish…so you may not be on the hook… yup, I even cringed for you, forgive me.
You need to have the following versions either written or memorized:
- 30-second version
- 2-minute version
- 5-minute version
- 30-minute version
I started with the first and the last one then sliced and diced from there.
2. Run a feasibility test too late
You don’t need to accomplish your vision state by the time you launch. You simply need a slice of it and I’ll explain how.
I started my career as a researcher or what some may call a strategic designer (hey research folks!) The way my brain worked, I spent a lot of time in the theoretical sci-fi space.
“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could press a button on your wine glass to control the exact temperature of your Chianti? You want it to feel like you have another ice cube in it without actually having to put one in.”
Transitioning into product allowed me to apply a few more prioritization drivers to my thinking without being a Negative Nancy.
“Hmm, roughly speaking how long might that take to build? If we think about the sensors, data exchange, current state of tech, etc.”
There is a healthy friction between the problem spacers and the solution spacers that requires an artful balance.
My personal philosophy is the best Product people are what I call, action-oriented philosophers.
Those who are able to fully immerse themselves in the limitless potential world of ideas and unhinge yet when the time comes, are able to skillfully take action and start to craft a product roadmap that works backward from the vision state (that may be 10–15 years out).
To be clear, I am very thankful to have started my career in a space with no boundaries and only ideas because that is the foundation that I base my entire Product philosophy on.
3. Not mock your idea up and show it to people within two weeks
And even two weeks is stretching it.
If you remember nothing else from this lovely read, remember this. Any idea that you have that isn’t validated with potential/actual users is collecting dust. When I say users, I mean a few different things here.
Depending on where you are in the process, “users” could look like:
- An advisor
- People who are not stakeholders
- Anyone who hasn’t been involved with the idea (getting a set of fresh eyes)
- People who fit the profile of your target market
- Actual users on your product/platform
This distinction is incredibly important because you can run different tests with different sets of people. For example, you don’t necessarily have to wait until you have people who fit your target profile to test usability/feasibility (yet you may want them if you’re running a desirability test!)
Secondly, this is asking you to do a few things:
- Pressure test your idea: By putting your ideas out there, you can get extremely valuable feedback without investing $1 toward building.
- Create a prototype: There are so many valuable resources out there on different forms of prototypes and how to quickly stand one up in minutes/hours versus days/weeks. This article by Anant Jain is such a great primer!
- Remove any limiting beliefs on perfectionism: This is the killer. At no point in time does the first version you show people need to be perfect, in fact, your future self will thank you ferociously if it isn’t.
Because you will learn SO much about what people like/don’t like/are wary about after putting pen to paper and talking to them about it. I’ve been in hundreds of user interviews when something the Product team thought was clear as day ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Talk to people.
I ended up running ~70 user interviews across different stages of the process from early-stage interviews to wireframes to low-fi prototypes to high-fi prototypes back to user interviews to card sorting activities — and the list goes on. I can’t stress how much my initial idea changed and evolved throughout the process because I allowed people to peek behind the curtains.
To everyone who took time out of their days to test my crazy ideas, thank you x10.
4. Forget to document the behind-the-scenes action
If I were to do it all over again, this is what I would dedicate far more time to. As an avid journaler myself, there are two aspects of journaling that drive it home for me:
- Doing a brain dump to release anything that’s been tying me down
- Being able to re-read and see my growth and progression
I wrote an entry on February 20th at 3:40pm titled “Think it just clicked” and here’s an excerpt:
“Over time, my [CTO] and I bought into the vision of Bare Chats and felt truly responsible for driving it forward. But the key point there is, it happened OVER TIME. By hearing and seeing the passion, dedication, and resilience we both showed to the vision, it re-energized me when I was about to start looking under the table for the “pause” button and I imagine vice versa! Or who knows maybe she was always a trooper, I’ll ask her next week”
Moral of the story: Treat everyday as a small stone in your overall story because it weaves itself together — extremely nicely — when you allow yourself to take a step back and see the painting versus the brush stroke.
The other piece to this is seeing how your designs evolve over time. In Figma, I laid out the transition from my scrappy wireframes I created to the build-ready UI screens and it still shocks me.
5. Save marketing for the end
As soon as you have the idea and decide to pursue it, the next step is to build the brand.
You don’t need to have all of the answers on what product you’re building, color psychology or what scent you want people to be reminded of when they think about your brand…to start thinking about the brand!
Given that I studied marketing in university, a quote that my professor (hey Professor Schloff!) said rings in my ears today:
“It’s not real until you have a name, a logo, and a riveting story”
None of the above requires that you have a fully baked product idea to get started. In fact, this is yet another test to run on desirability — are people even interested?
All you need are the following:
- Name (discovered in bed at approximately 1am)
- Logo (Fiverr/Pinterest helped me here)
- Landing page (my first one was on Squarespace but there’s Wix, Wordpress, any many more!)
After creating these three items, I knew I could never look back. Bare Chats would see the light of day because it was actually a thing now, it wasn’t just an idea in my head anymore. It had a life of its own.
These learnings don’t even scratch the surface of what dedicating 1.5 years to solving a problem that you’re passionate about can teach you. Everything is figureoutable and don’t let any circumstance, lack of [fill in the blanks], or person tell you otherwise.
As always, feel free to reach out to me personally to chat about all things product, marketing, and/or holistic wellness.