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Friday, January 22, 2010

How to Build and Sell Great Products

Last Wednesday, our TLP session in Boston focused on "Getting Revenues and Building Great Products". Ajay Kulkarni, Founder of Sensobi (TLP '09) which was chosen for Techstars 2009, moderated the IT panel, which featured Rishi Dean (Co-founder/CTO at Visible Measures, a venture-backed startup in social media), Rama Ramakrishna (MIT Sloan Lecturer in Operations Research, Founder, Profit Sciences, CTO, ProfitLogic - which was sold to Oracle for $250MM), and Mike Sheeley (TLP '09, Co-Founder and COO at RunKeeper, the #1 fitness app on the internet).

Each panelist shared valuable tips from the trenches on what they've learned from their good and bad experiences building products.

Here are some of the key lessons/takeaways from our three panelists:

Build off your passions, interests, and market experience when creating a new product

A startup will consume your life. Make sure you pick a space that interests you deeply so that the ride is enjoyable, no matter what the outcome. If you're not 100% committed and excited about your your idea, it will be hard to carry on when things get tough. Build off your expertise - it is much harder to create a truly great product if you aren't intimately familiar with your target market.

What you value in your product and what your customers value will likely not be the same

Talk to your customers as much as you can to understand what features they care about the most. Focus as much time and energy as possible on the biggest value drivers for them, not all the bells and whistles that you think are going to make the product more interesting. Don't assume that you know what they need - your interpretation of what they need won't always be correct. Watch them use the product in their natural habitat to unlock even more insights.

Know your market economics

Understand what people are willing to pay for - if possible, insert yourself in a pre-existing flow of dollars instead of creating a brand new flow. Show a clear, tangible ROI that people can't ignore or argue with. Figure out as early as possible whether what you're building is destined to be a hobby or a real business.

Think big - small ideas require as much work as big ideas

Just because an idea may be more niche-focused and small in scope, doesn't mean that it won't be a lot of work. Developing any product is going to be a significant amount of work, so why cap your upside by focusing on a small problem or small market? Your time is valuable. Spend it developing game changing products if you want to build a truly successful business.

Flexibilty is better than perfection

Avoid the temptation to wait until a product is "perfect" before you launch. Iterate and improve constantly in short development cycles. Get something out the door and be willing to change direction based on market feedback if necessary. The longer you wait, the greater the chance that competitors will steal your thunder. Provide just enough value to keep your customers engaged, and then add more over time.

For more tips, check out Rishi Dean's presentation embedded here: