A Product Development Roadmap for First-time Founders
WeFestival Entrepreneurs on How to Test, Validate, and Iterate Your First Product
Leslie Ali Walker and Rachael Ellison, Founders of Need/Done, assert that while we’re often encouraged to start a business that solves a personal problem, we’re rarely warned to evaluate our implicit biases. The contradiction is a make-it-or-break-it for startups. When missed, you risk never achieving product market fit.
Fifteen WeFestival founders — who have created products ranging from parenting websites to architecturally inspired ice cream — detail the product development lessons they’ve learned to help you navigate the process.
Read on for answers to the following questions:
- Is my product validating a real need in the market?
- How do I gather, evaluate and implement customer feedback?
- What should I expect during product development?
- How do I test and iterate my product through scale?
Gauging Market Interest
How to Conduct Product Demos and Surveys
Jordana Kier and Alex Friedman
Founders of LOLA
Alex (@friedgal) and Jordana’s (@kieroyale) initial goal for LOLA was to save women from the always unexpected tampon run to CVS. After initial conversations with women in their networks, it became clear that the duo had a much larger calling.
We dove deep into the topic of feminine care: What women knew, didn’t know, and were curious to learn more about. Through those exercises, we validated that LOLA had to be about the product, the brand, and the transparency behind our voice.
Founder of Lean On
Chedva (@ChedvaK) credits her professional mentors for nurturing her entrepreneurial spirit and personal wellness as a young founder. She was inspired to create Lean On — an on-demand network for women to connect with mentors — to enable others to have the same experience. She explains how and why her team conducted an in-depth survey to uncover how women navigate professional challenges.
We asked real questions about how women feel at work and where they get advice. They didn’t choose the most relevant answers. They really wrote to us, were vulnerable, and trusted us with their experiences.
We didn’t start working until we analyzed the survey, saw what was needed and what was missing. We created Lean On to fill in the gaps.
Co-founder and CEO of Phin and Phebes
Now widely known for ice cream flavors like Banana Whama and Coconut Key Lime, the Founders of Phin and Phebes started the company while working full-time jobs. From in-office ice cream tests to trading surveys for samples, Crista explains the evolution of Phin and Phebes’ early product testing.
Don’t outsource product demos. As a founder, you need to see people interact with your product.
Co-founder of Tutorlist
Before launching Tutorlist, Emily (@0tiger1) and her co-founders called every parent, teacher, and tutor they know to gain a deep understanding of their experiences finding and working with tutors. These are the questions they asked to validate their idea.
- Have you used a product like this before?
- How did you find it?
- How much did you pay for it? Would you pay for this?
- What did you like about it? What did you dislike?
- How could it be improved?
Call everyone you know and say: ‘Tell us why our idea is bad. What are we not thinking of?’
Founder and CEO of The Optimist Co.
Creating and marketing natural cleaning solutions has required Devin to not only pitch The Optimist Co. but to demonstrate the benefits of using chemical-free products. She explains how she utilizes the feedback she receives from live demos to inform her design and product decisions.
A lot of people don’t know where to start. You want to tailor information to guide them.
When you look at our labels you see our story and the answers to common questions like ‘Why did you start this business?’ and ‘What surfaces can I use this on?’.
It’s not just about designing a product. It’s about starting and continuing a conversation with your customers based on what they’re looking for.
Jean Brownhill Lauer
Founder and CEO of Sweeten
Two weeks after Jean (@jvbl) launched the initial version of Sweeten, Daily Candy published a piece about their home-renovation platform. The overwhelming homeowner demand, feedback, and inquiries were a flashing green light that the product was fulfilling a deep need in the market.
It was like when you hit a nail perfectly on the head and it goes “Whoosh!” Straight in!
Gathering Customer Insights
How to Evaluate Customer Feedback
Co-founder and Head of Member Experience at HoneyBook
When Shadiah (@ShadiahS) and her co-founders pitched HoneyBook in 2013, nearly every event professional they spoke to vehemently stated that they didn’t need or want the product. She discusses why the team followed their gut and built the company regardless.
You have to read in between the lines as an entrepreneur. You can’t take all feedback at face value.
Founder and CEO of Loverly
After launching their first bridal line in early 2015, with positive feedback from their customers, the Loverly team faced operational challenges that forced them to re-evaluate pursuing e-commerce. Kellee (@Kellee) shares Loverly’s core learning and outcome from the process.
We had to go back to the drawing board and ask ‘What is our customers real pain point here? Where did we go wrong?’
Conducting Early Experiments
What to Expect During Product Development
Co-founder of Negative
Whether it was attempting to hire outside consultants or using a new fabric for a silhouette, Lauren (@Lascwhab_) and her Co-founder Marissa learned that product development is a slow process that must be championed by a company’s founders.
There is no way to circumvent the product development process. It is incredibly challenging, requires you to be detail oriented and very clear with what you want with your feedback. Expect that there will be multiple rounds of iteration.
Leslie Ali and Rachael Ellison
Founders of Need/Done
After conducting focus groups and polls to determine if Need/Done was solving a real problem for parents, Leslie and Rachael (@ReWorkingParent) ran a two-week pilot experiment to gain a complete understanding of their customers needs. They explain how and why they hacked together Twilio and Slack for 20 mothers.
We went nuts doing anything and everything that anybody asked us to do 24/7. It was insane but we had to figure out what the mothers’ needs were.
Co-founder and CEO of Coolhaus
After wandering into the Whole Foods freezer aisle and asking the team member stocking the shelves — ‘What’s it going to take for my brand to be sold here?’ — Natasha explains why she launched Coolhaus with three stores, rather than 100s.
I’m a huge fan of MVPs (minimum viable products). You get something out there, even in the smallest quantity, and you begin to learn.
It’s better to run a small experiment and see what people are picking up on or missing, than to launch with a 100 stores, which is a more expensive change to make.
You can do all of the analysis and marketing tests you want. Nothing tells you the truth like when your product is out in the world.
Between the foil bags that resemble Coolhaus trucks to the seal indicating that the company’s owned by female founders, Natasha explains how Coolhaus stands out on the shelves by thoughtfully including every aspect of the brand’s story.
You have to grab people with your packaging. For us, it’s about telling people that we’re fun, young, and that we started with a truck. It’s not designed by a Consumer Packaged Goods team. It’s created by a team from the outside looking in. You can learn a lot about us from picking up an ice cream sandwich in the freezer aisle.
Specifically in the food industry, customers possess strong opinions about your product. Natasha shares how the Coolhaus team responds to and implements user feedback and when they stick to their ice cream expertise.
If one person says: ‘This cookie tastes chalky.’ We check on it. If five people say: ‘These cookies taste chalky.’ It’s not a coincidence. There is something going on that we have to address.
At the same time, there is also a place where you have to draw the line in the sand and say: ‘Let us do what we do best.’ There are times when you have to assert the knowledge you have that your customers don’t.
Always Be Testing
How to Gain a Deep Understanding of Your Customer
Jean Brownhill Lauer
Founder and CEO of Sweeten
During Sweeten’s early days, the team would implement a single change on the homepage and wait a month to record any viable changes. Today, the team runs 50 to 75 tests at once. Jean highlights which metrics they test and the platforms they use to monitor them.
Every single feature and page on your site can be tested.
Founder and CEO of Cricket’s Circle
Once you achieve product market fit, it’s easy to forget that your customer has emotional needs in addition to their tangible ones. Rachel describes how to uncover and address them.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day of running a business but you can’t forget to stop and appreciate who your customer is, what their demands and needs are.
It goes along the lines of how you speak to them, when you speak to them, and your brand’s visual identity.
An emotional understanding of your customer makes you a prime candidate to not only acknowledge the psychology of their problem but to address it in your solution.