Why most product ideas aren’t that good

Justin Jackson
Feb 11, 2017 · 3 min read
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When you’re building software, the question you need to ask is:

“How does this tool make people more awesome?”

In practice, it’s difficult to create a product that provides customers with a real benefit. Often, product people will BS their rationale:

“Will this help people? Oh yeah, for sure!”

In reality, most new products ideas aren’t that good because they don’t actually give users progress in their lives.

There’s only one way to find a good product idea: observe real people, and recognize the real struggles they face.

And the truth is, whoever is most embedded in a given community is likely going to win.

If you and I both make an app for lawyers, but you love hanging out with them more than I do, it’s more likely you’ll notice where they need help.

Or, if you’re a woman who wears pantyhose daily, you’re more likely to invent Spanx than a man who wears jeans. Sarah Blakely noticed women struggling with pantyhose that didn’t fit. She’s a billionaire because she helped those women overcome that obstacle.

Where should you start?

Go to work every day and ask:

“How can I make my boss’ life easier?”

Solving the boss’ problems is a particularly fertile training ground for building software because it’s “the boss” who’ll be paying for it!

(Freelancing? Replace the word “boss” with “client”)

Spend time hanging out with the people you’d like to help! As you observe them, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Where are they now?
  2. Where do they want to go?
  3. What’s standing in their way?
  4. How could you help them overcome that obstacle?

Here’s an example:

Your boss comes in at 6 am every Monday so they can run reports for the weekly executive meeting.

What’s their dream of a better life? To be able to sleep in on Monday, and arrive at 9 am instead.

What obstacles stand in their way? The reports currently need to be run manually.

How can you help? Write an automated script that runs those reports for them!

Every person in the world has issues like this in their life. They’re doing things a certain way, and they can’t figure out how to make it better.

Our job, as product people, is to discern pain points, and have the creativity to solve them.

Justin Jackson

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Originally published at justinjackson.ca on February 11, 2017.

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