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Don’t Start Coding Just Yet

Were you able to find a few interesting software product ideas after reading my last post? Good! I hope you are excited and wondering, “Now what?”

As much as it is tempting to sketch out a few web screen designs, print business cards and call your coding friends to get started, you risk having a blah web or mobile product without some up-front due diligence and sleuthing homework. It is not hard, but it does take time and thought.  To make it easier, here is your cheat sheet on what you need to know before you code your first web or mobile application.

Welcome to Product Management!

If you intend to take an idea and make it real, you have adopted the role of product owner and product manager. Congratulations on your new job! Product Management is the discipline of creating and marketing great products that people want, and will buy. Even if you don’t plan to sell your product, starting off with the goal of creating a product good enough to sell will help you make your product better.

The principles for product management are similar if you are building an app or a toaster. For the purposes of this blog, however, I will focus on examples as they relate to custom software.

Market Research

Trust me, it isn’t as bad as it sounds.  Market research is spending time to see what has been done before so you can avoid investing your time and money on becoming another software or mobile app commodity. With over 1 million mobile apps in the App Store, it is probably that someone else has had, and implemented, your idea already. Your first step in “know before you code” is to become well informed about your target market. Here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • Who are the types of people that need your solution?
  • How are these people currently dealing with the problem you are trying to solve?
  • What do they like about their current method of solving the problem?
  • What do they hate?
  • What are there available products that try to address this need?
  • Who are the companies behind these products?
  • How do these applications approach the problem?
  • How long have the applications been on the market?
  • What do their user’s say about the app or service in reviews and blogs?
  • How many people are using these products?
  • Do they actually solve the problem?
  • Is there room to develop a custom software product that is different as well as better?

Don’t Just Be Better

If you found that others have beat you to the punch, you may be thinking, “I’ll just build a better software product.” In the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Law number one is the Law of Leadership. Very simply put, it is better to be first than better. If you are not first in your idea, you need to find a way to be first in a niche or to be altogether different. As the book explains with multiple examples, no one remembers better. They remember and embrace the first.

If a web or mobile app for your idea already exists, ask yourself what is unique about you that you could apply to your product to make it different. For example, there are plenty of coffee suppliers today, but Grimpeur Bros has targeted their coffee to cyclists. Although they are not the first coffee seller, they are probably the first for cycling fanatics, which makes them different.

User Research

Once you understand the market, it is time to understand your user. The first key step in doing this, and the hardest, is to come to terms with the fact that you are not your user. It is easy to build a software app that makes you happy, which is a good start, but will it make other people happy as well? And will they use it like how you will use it? It is best not to guess.

To understand your user, identify who you are targeting (age, occupation, gender, personality, income, preferences, hobbies) and interview as many people as you can that match this “persona.” It is often said that if everyone is your customer, no one is your customer, so do not be afraid to get specific!

During your interview, ask your user about the issue you are trying to solve to hear what they think, and how they deal with it and think about it in their own words. Once you have set the stage, explained your product idea and ask why they would or would not use it. Also ask them about similar products they own; which are the ones they love, and which are the ones they own but don’t use, and why.

Your goal is to get real feedback about your product, in their words, and identify what is critical to your customer. Does your app solve a real pain point for them? Is the pain point important to them?  What are their preferences for using a product like yours? Do they prefer a desktop, tablet or mobile phone?  When would they use your product?  What are their objections or hesitations? Why have the solutions they used before failed to work?

Last but not least, you will want to ask your target user TO BUY your product. This idea comes from Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour WorkweekMost people are nice and will tell you that they would buy your product, but if asked to buy, and spend their own money, they will provide you with a more honest response.  If no one is willing to pay for your software idea, then you may not have a product yet.

Be Disruptive

When you think about creating a software solution, it is easy to do things as they have been done before, pulling from the building blocks that are familiar. Rather than solve your problem in a way that most other problems are being solved today, look to see if there is a way to do it differently. The recent buzz word for upsetting the status quo with your solution is a disruptive solution or technology.

If the idea of trying to be disruptive seems as easy as imagining a new color, here are two examples of people who were disruptive in their industry to get you started.

Chase Jarvis – Creative Live

Chase Jarvis is a professional photographer who is self-taught in the art and business of photography. His idea was to bring together the world’s best creatives and make education more accessible for all. With, you can watch courses for free on the web during the live broadcast and same-day replay. If you would like to watch the course at a later time, or access course bonus material, then you will need to pay a nominal fee of around $99.

In my previous post, I talked about the “dog on the nail” story. For Chase, the nail was a frustration that there was an elitist notion that top education was only for a select few who could afford it. Rather than feel the pain, he did something about it. is disruptive because it uses technology to provide education from the world’s top experts for free, or at a minimal price for more convenience.  If you have not seen or heard of, I highly recommend you check them out.

Gary Vaynerchuk – Wine Library TV

Gary Vaynerchuk took over his father’s New Jersey liquor store and turned it into a retail wine store. What made him successful was his daily podcast on where he provided his funny and opinionated take on wine for the masses. Gary was disruptive because he talked about wine openly and freely, in a way that the average person could relate, and in doing so made enjoying and understanding wine more accessible, widespread and less snobby.

To find a disruptive path, ask yourself what are some commonly held assumptions that you and others have with regards to your product and your target market? Could these assumptions be turned on their head and changed, allowing you to make a better software product and/or service and to bring something new to the world?

Enjoy your homework!  In the next post, I will talk about moving your web or mobile app idea forward with a great solution and creative design.


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