Product Development Checklist
In my spare time I like to work on product ideas. It's fun, an excellent learning opportunity and may generate passive income.
The last point didn't work for me yet. One reason is that I often start working on something, build it almost to the finish line, and then lose motivation. But I think it's way more fun to work on something long-term, on something that people actually get a benefit from. And the learning effect is a lot higher.
I think a checklist will help me achieve that. It reminds me where I am in the process, what's still to do and gives an overview.
Keep in mind that this is a checklist for building a small product on the side and it's usually idea first. It's not for building a huge corporation.
0) Validate the idea
There are 2 kinds of products, ones that solve problems customers know they have (and therefore search a solution for) and the ones that customers don't know they have.
The latter category is about behavior change. Customers think everything is alright, but there is a way that's a lot better / more efficient / has other enormous benefits. Customers won't actively search for those, since they don't even know it exists.
They are more difficult to sell, since they require behavior change by customers.
The actual point I'm trying to make here is that since they require behavior change and customers don't search for them and think the status quo is ok, it's difficult to validate these ideas.
To actually validate an idea I found a few options:
- See people talking about the problem/solution (blogposts, Reddit, social media groups, ...)
- Also check size of social media groups
- Check searches with Google Keyword Planner
- Google News
- Google Trends
1) Define the product
- Define the problem it solves
- Identify the core value
- Identify the adjacent values
- Think about time to value and how to lower that as much as possible
- Think about how often customers will have the problem solved by the product
- The more often a problem arises, the higher the value for the customer and the faster they'll try out the product
- Define what it should do and create a rough outline of features necessary
- Define and describe the target use case, where the product fits into the customer's workflow
- Problem definition
- List of values and benefits to the customer
- Rough product definition
All of that is just text. Nothing more yet.
2) Competitor analysis
- Find similar products
- Check what the differentiating factor is (UVP)
- If there is none, or it's not good enough, brainstorm
- It can be the price, e.g. if there are only enterprise products on the market, there's room to target smaller companies
- Update benefits and product definition according to the new UVP
- Updated artefacts of step 1
3) Define customers
For side-projects there's not much room to do active selling. Therefore it's necessary that the target customer can easily purchase the product, without long decision processes.
So ideally, B2C, freelancers or small to medium companies. It's usually harder in enterprises to buy something.
- Define possible customer segments
- Define the ideal customer, beachhead segment
- Find out where to find
- LinkedIn search
- Facebook/Instagram/Slack/LinkedIn groups
- Find out how to contact them to get first customers
- Ideally something that allows direct sales (e.g. email, Twitter, direct messages)
- List of places where potential customers are
- Definition how to best contact them
4) Estimate market size
If the market is too small, there's no point in continuing with the product. Another consideration though is if the market is growing, and how fast.
Potential ways to do that:
- Check the size of relevant subreddits
- Check the size of social media groups
- Check the amount of Google searches
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google News
- Google Trends
I'd estimate that it'll be possible to capture about 0.1% of the market.
In my opinion though this step is not that necessary, because for side-projects having a few customers already makes it worthwhile.
For a product that costs 50$/month, having 100 customers already generates 5000$/month. Not something to live on in San Francisco, but still very nice to have.
This is something that's still achievable by direct sales, which is why there's no "Define marketing strategy" point on this list.
5) User validation
- Talk to potential customers and find out what they're doing right now, how they solve the problem currently
- Ask if they have/see the problem that's solved by the product
- If the product provides a better way of solving the problem (behavior change), check if others see it the same way
- Not everyone has to share this opinion, just a few, who then ideally become the first customers
- Validate if potential customers have the use case described in 1)
- Understanding of users' view
- Ideally list of potential first customers
6) Flesh out product definition
- Product name, tagline, description, one-sentence explanation
- Benefits and descriptive text for them
- not features, end-user benefits, how it improves their work/lives
- Longer form product explanation (if someone else reads it they should understand what it's about)
- What the product does
- What problem it solves
- Detailed description about the problem, not just 1 sentence
- What causes it? What is the impact?
- How it solves that problem
- Document(s) containing the resulting writeup
7) Create initial product presentation
Will be a website in most cases.
- Create icon and logo
- Select colors
- List the sections the website should have
- E.g. hero, problem, benefits, product (what it is), features, signup, footer, use-case description, how it fits into the current workflow (graphic)
- Problem section is only necessary if the product mandates a change in behavior
- Create rough outline
- Create finished website
- Icon and logo
- Color scheme
8) Get first customers
- Write people directly (identified in step 3) and try to get 10 to commit to paying for the product (direct sales)
- Start with beta phase, to communicate that the product isn't perfect yet. If customers don't get value from the core product (MVP), then it's probably not a good product
- Will be more difficult than if the product already exists, but it's validation before building it
- Can be an exclusive club (and communicated like that), with a shared communication channel (e.g. Telegram group) with the founders
- If the hit rate is so low that getting people to commit with direct sales revert back to posting the website publicly and rely on newsletter signup
- In this case probably either the target market or the product is bad, do better next time
This step can benefit from a blog, in which the first post is a detailed explanation about the problem and why we need a product to solve it.
For example NamingThings with the post "Why we need a book about naming", which made it on the HN front page.
- List of first customers
- If valuable and feasible a shared communication channel with them
9) Build the MVP
- Should really be the absolute minimum
- E.g. there's no need for user signup, you can create the account yourself (in case of direct sales) and don't need email validation (you've been in contact with them)
- Use as many abstractions as possible (e.g. Firebase Authentication)
- After that's done and people use it, work on the most important things first
- Talk to users to know what that is
- Don't let them dictate how new features should look like, hear their problems and solve them in the way best for the product
- First build frontend (especially for UI products), then backend
- With an existing UI it's easier to convince initial customers
- Screenshots/screencasts can be used for the website
- With the frontend potential customers can start giving feedback. It's not necessary to have the whole product implemented.
- Can be mingled with step 8
- Minimum viable product
10) Get additional users
- Depending on how it's going
- In batches, creates exclusivity for the ones who come in
- If users are excited and want to recommend to their friends, let existing ones recommend (e.g. everyone can refer 1 person), creates further exclusivity for them
- If not relevant, let users from signup list in
- All at once
- This can be overwhelming in terms of feedback and support requests
- Could make it difficult to focus on the product and creating a great one
- In batches, creates exclusivity for the ones who come in
From then on the product is validated and can be expanded. This checklist is about getting to a product with first users, so this is where it ends.
And there's already enough great content out there for marketing and everything else necessary to grow your product.