Since it’s the weekend and I’m still off at FinCon, I thought I would lend a hand to others and share some information on product development. I know many of my readers are probably interested in some sort of product development-whether it’s of their site, blog, course, podcast, or other business idea. Even if you’re currently working a regular 9-5 with no plans to FIRE or quit your job to start a business, you’ve likely thought about launching something. Maybe you want to start a side hustle but you don’t know where to start. Or perhaps as part of your job you work on projects that are launching products, and you’d like to learn a bit more about how it works.
This happens to be an area I have quite a bit of expertise in from my “real” job, so I wanted to share a rundown of some key concepts you’ll want to keep in mind when launching a product, business, or side hustle. You can also apply these same ideas to your work or your personal life
Interestingly to me there are people out there who charge hundreds-or thousands-of dollars for this information through their courses. But because I want to give back to all my readers, I’m going to give you a run down for the low cost of your time.
My credentials? Not only am I an IT program manager who works for a Fortune 100 company, but I’ve worked very closely in partnership with our product and marketing teams on multiple successful product launches. I’ve taken extensive training courses in design thinking, learned all about product pricing, and also have that MBA (Masters in Business Administration). That MBA included courses on business, finance, and marketing, among many other topics. So I have the education and the experience to talk about this subject extensively
How Have I Used These Ideas?
On this site, I’ve run a ton of small experiments. Some things have been successful, some, not so much. I’ve published all different types of content to see what resonated. I’ve been on social media connecting with people. I launched this site quickly, for pretty much free (no Bluehost here), and I’ve been running it bare-bones while I figure things out. I’ve worked to experiment as fast and cheaply as possible, I’ve gotten started rather than stuck in analysis, and I’ve had a ton of fun along the way (been pretty successful too).
As I mentioned at the start, I’ve also successfully used these ideas and concepts at work to launch successful multi-million dollar projects. I incorporate these ideas into the way I lead my team, and many of them into the way I live my life. I think all this comes across in the site, although I’ve never really sat down and put all my thoughts down on virtual paper before.
So without further ado, here are some key product concepts you’ll want to know/avoid when considering your own project or business. Sit down, grab your phone (or a pencil and paper), and prepare to learn. Once you’ve learned be sure to share with others so they can learn too.
Experiment, Fail Fast, and Pivot
When you’re launching a new product, service, site, or anything else, just remember these three key concepts:
- Experiment. Launch lots and lots of different small, cheap experiments. Don’t invest a ton of time, energy, and money into something until you’re sure it will stick-and you’ll stick with it.
- Fail Fast (and cheap). Similar to the above. Accept that a lot of the things you throw against the wall won’t work. Embrace this. This is why you run so many experiments, and why you’re doing them so cheaply. You can make up for a ton of failures with one runaway success
- Pivot. You could also call this continue to experiment. Try something. It doesn’t work? Tweak it and try again. Still? Repeat. Relentlessly pursue your goals and don’t give up until you’ve found the one that works
So you want to start a side hustle but you “don’t have any ideas.” Or conversely you have waaaay too many ideas. What you need is some design thinking.
What’s this? As Creativity at Work puts it:
Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions for clients. A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused and action oriented towards creating a preferred future.
So, um, what exactly does that mean? I go through a detailed breakdown of design thinking in this post when I reviewed the book Designing Your Life (which I highly recommend you pick up for work and financial reasons). As I said there:
Essentially, you start with a series of theories (hypothesis) by brainstorming possible products/services/solutions/life paths. Then you create quick prototypes to test out the concepts as fast and cheaply as possible. Use the information gathered from that prototyping to refine the concept(s) and come to an ultimate solution to pursue.
It’s really just a process you go through to brainstorm in a productive way. Come up with a ton of ideas first, then start hands-on work creating quick prototypes as quickly and as cheaply as possible. So, for example, if you wanted to start a website, you might first come up with a ton of ideas and then start a site for free with WordPress to experiment without paying anything.
More about design thinking:
- IDEO U – an overview. Don’t spend money on the courses though because the next link is..
- A free virtual crash course in design thinking from Stamford
- An overview from Forbes
- And a TED talk
1,000 True Fans
This idea is about 10 years old now, and it’s still true. If you can develop your reach to the point where you can reach 1,000 true fans and make $100 profit from each one, you can support yourself through your work. What’s a true fan? Someone who will buy any product you launch, because they’re an avid follower of brand *you*.
So there are two parts to this concept. First, you have to be able to build your product/service/brand presence to the point where you reach enough people to develop those thousand fans. And then you need to make sure you’re seeing at least $100 annual profit from them. That article is not a how-to, but rather shows you what’s possible. If you haven’t read it before, you need to leave my site right now and read it. Just come back and finish the rest of this page when you’re done.
Minimum Viable Product
This is a really, really important idea – one that many large corporations get wrong. So I’m going to help you get it right.
Lots of products fail because of analysis paralysis and scope creep combining to make an initiative into a giant, slow, lumbering beast of a product launch bloated with a ton of unnecessary features. Not only does this give the opportunity for more things to go wrong, it’s also more likely to cause looooong delays and fail when launched.
What’s the solution? Three simple words.
Minimum. Viable. Product.
These three words are the key. You may know exactly what you want your product to look and feel like. You may have a long term vision in your mind of when it will be just perfect. But you need to let go of that. Let it go, and strip your idea down to the barest possible bones. Launch those bones and then add on to them over time, as quickly as you can.
Why? Getting something out into the market is preferable to getting nothing out. By focusing on standing up the bare minimum first, launching it, and quickly iterating on it/improving it, you get the benefit not only of first-mover advantage, but also of learning from what you launched. There are some things you just won’t learn except by doing them. So by launching you get an opportunity to practice doing, learn from it, and make adjustments as necessary. It’s entirely possible you’ll discover that features you thought would be critical aren’t needed, and ones you thought were “nice to haves” are really key to making your product competitive.
This is something that you need to avoid, and it ties in nicely to the concept around Minimum Viable Product. What does it mean? Well, analysis paralysis is a commonly used phrase to refer to what happens when you enter the vortex of trying to collect waaaaaay too much information before taking any action. Instead of just getting out there and experimenting, you keep doing more and more research. Eventually you get stuck in the research phase so much, you either don’t launch anything (because you feel paralyzed), or you launch something very late into the market and lose the first mover advantage.
Let’s say that you have a great idea for a website. You decide you need to research how create and maintain a site, so you do weeks and weeks of research on WordPress, web hosting, and the like. OK, now you know enough about the basics of setting up a website. But what plugins should you use? Oh, and you need a logo, right? Better spend a lot of time getting that right. You need a launch strategy. Should you do video? Oh wait, how do you do video?
By the time you figure everything out perfectly, and get it set up just so, someone will have already come in and taken your idea. So do enough research to make sure you know what you’re doing, at least somewhat, and then get going. You can always tweak more, change things up, and re-brand/pivot if needed. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis, and go for that minimum viable product instead.
One important idea you’ll want to think about is that of niching down. When you first start with your ideas you’ll probably also think of a huge audience. For example, all millennials. Or all baby boomers, or all women…you get the idea. Sometimes people fall into false thinking that “if only I can capture 1% of the market of all women in the US, I’ll be a billionaire!!!” It doesn’t actually work like that.
Take this site. I specifically target my content at people who are interested in overcoming adversity, and moms who are interested in money, work, financial independence, and teaching money to their kids. That doesn’t mean that others are unwelcome or don’t like my content. In fact I’m very fortunate to count many women who don’t have kids and men among my readers (hello there!) – I think they like my story and the way I present information. But I’ve found a niche to fill where there was a void before.
So how do you pick your niche? Ideally it’s something you’re an authority in, have expertise in, or have contacts for. Look around to see where others are focusing, do you see a gap that needs filling? You’ll often find success to be easier when you feel a real need in the market, rather than trying to steal market share from established players. Finding your niche also helps with the persona development we’ll discuss soon.
Call To Action – And I Want To Hear From You!
First, if you’re looking to develop a product (side hustle, in your job, or otherwise), don’t take this article as the last and final word on these subjects. This topic could fill an entire book-or e-course-and there’s so much more to learn. So commit to exploring and learning more about the above via books or googling the key words I’ve given you.
What of the above resonates the most with you? I want to know, is this a subject that interests you? – and if so, what else do you want me to talk about? Let me know in the comments.
Be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram, what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads.