How to Build a Product People Love - Insights from Phil Libin
Building a product that people like is hard, but building a product that people love is even harder. However, regardless of how challenging the product development process is, it is possible to create an offering that resonates with a wide audience, if somewhat improbable. Luckily, this blog post features a wealth of product-building insights from Evernote co-founder and executive chairman Phil Libin, from what makes a great product to getting feedback on you product to and more.
Defining a great product is a daunting task, but there are at least a couple key characteristics that all great products have.
Great products have a point of view. Great products aren’t neutral, meaning they are created by people who have a specific point of view of how the world is supposed to work through this product.
Great products don’t rely on the user to do anything. It isn’t the user’s job to do anything, so a great product should reduce - or eliminate - the amount of work a user needs to do get stuff done.
How Do You Convince Your Team to Love Your Product?
Put simply, the best way to make your startup team members love the product they’re building is to make sure they love their job. For many, if not most people, work is merely a means to an end, a way to pay the bills and put their kids through college. And if you’re in a managerial role, it’s next to impossible for you to force more and better work from unhappy employees.
Happiness in the workplace not only defines the current product your company is building at the moment, but every product you build in the future, especially during the product development life cycle. Therefore, it’s important for company leaders to take the time to prioritize employee morale by creating a comfortable, creative environment that is as stress-free as possible (but in the startup world, there are bound to be stressful times). Also, be sure to instill in your team the importance of the product they’re working on, as well as the direct effect that the product has on the world.
Another tip to help motivate your employees is to, as Phil Libin puts it, “make the product for yourself”. This means that if you continuously build a product for a market or customer base that you don’t care about or are not interested in, your company will remain in product-market fit mode. But if you and your team build a product with yourselves in mind, iteration cycles will take far less time and the work will be more fulfilling for everyone.
If you're honest with yourself and you're making a product for you, you can know when it's getting better. You can know when you're really being in love with certain features. You can know when it's going backwards. You can know because you're the target audience.” - Phil Libin
How Do You Test Your Passion for Your Product?
This is a pretty simple answer. If you are building a product for an industry that you’re interested in and yet you have to force yourself to become excited about it, you should probably do something else.
However, if you are genuinely excited about working in a specific industry and you feel like you’re the world’s foremost expert in your field (even if you’re not), then you’re most likely on the right track.
What Do You Do When You Have an Idea for a Product?
Most, if not all, entrepreneurs are familiar with the thrill of coming up with or stumbling upon what they think is an amazing startup idea. But too many of them get so caught up in the idea that they do little to bring it outside of the artificial world that exists in their own minds.
While the obvious choice is to get as much feedback as possible from industry experts, as well as potential co-founders and business partners, this may not always be the most constructive idea, either, as outside influences can often serve only to fan the flames of excitement. And because of this, founders become more excited about the idea of launching a company rather than build a meaningful product.
So, if you have an idea for a potentially great product, what should you do then? The answer: get feedback from people who have not stake in the product or company you’re trying to build, as they will give you the most honest feedback. That means meet with people who aren’t startup mentors or potential co-founders or industry experts, as these types of people will most likely give you biased feedback. Remember, if the average person has trouble understanding how your dream product works, many others probably will, too.
How Do You Remain Objective When Getting Different Kinds of Feedback?
While maintaining some sense of objectivity is important when creating your product development plane, sometimes it’s good to just follow your passion and see where it leads you. Think of it this way: anybody who thinks that quitting their job and launching a startup is a good idea should not quit their job and build a startup, because it is incredibly risky and may very well ruin whoever tries.
But, with the odds stacked against you, your secret weapon is your undying passion and unconditional love for your idea. Your best bet is to talk to as many people as you can and, after getting considerable feedback, determine if you’re still interested in your idea. If you are, then go for it. However, if you start finding ways to defend your idea’s viability to yourself, then find something else to do.
Don’t Invent the Hammer Before Finding the Nail
Yet another mistake that both beginning and experienced founders make during their product development strategy is that they build a technology (“The Hammer”) before they determine what problem (“The Nail”) that technology is trying to solve. This is just another way that entrepreneurs become so enamored with the thrill of launching a company that they delude themselves into inventing a problem that either doesn’t need a solution or just doesn’t even exist.
The best way to cognitively prevent yourself from inventing a problem for your product is to focus less on dreaming up an amazing piece of innovative technology, and focus more on a widespread problem that many people experience. And not only must the problem be prevalent enough to ensure a large user base, it also has to be one that customers would be willing to pay money for and put in the time and effort to adapt to their current routine or process.
How Do You Determine if People Care About Your Product?
While there are numerous metrics that a founder can employ to measure a user’s love for their product, one of the most important metrics, if not the most important metric, is customer retention rate. In fact, retention rate is much more important than other common metrics like growth rate and conversion, because if your customers don't actually need your product and aren’t sticking with it on a long-term basis, all of your other metrics will drop because of that.
Anybody can fall in love with a brand new product that promises to solve their problems, but but few people actually care enough about a product to continuously use it, and upgrade to newer models. In short, if you’re product can not only attract users but keep them, you’ve just built a product that people love.
There are two main types of retention that founders should test after they’ve launched their product:
Short-term. Depending on the type of product you’ve built, it will take some time for a customer to familiarize themselves with it and decide if they like it. This may be a few hours or days or longer. If customers continue to use your product after that initial trial period, then you’re off to a good start.
Long-term. Once your customer has decided to use your product, find out if they are still using after considerable time has passed, like weeks or months later. Remember, the longer they continue to use your product after trying it out, the better the retention rate. Of the two retention types, this one, of course, is the most important.