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Can you build a great product on the first try? Are there some best practices that will help you achieve this? This mini series will try to give you the answers on these questions and help you build a great product. Learn from successful products such as Snapchat, Slack, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify and Pinterest.
How to Build a Great Product – Lessons from Snapchat, Slack & Instagram Part 1.
How to Build a Great Product – Lessons from Snapchat, Slack & Instagram Part 3.
Eat your own dog food
What is one of the best ways to find the weak spots of your great product? Well, other than talking to your users? Use your own product single every day. You and everyone on your team have to use your product more than your biggest power users. This is non-negotiable. Unless there is some obstacle, you and your teammates have to become a power users of your product.
This practice is so important and popular on the startup scene, and beyond, it even has its own name. It is “eat your own dog food”. Think about it. You are building a product you want to see in the world. It is a product you care about, hopefully. If we assume that this condition is true, why wouldn’t you and your teammates use that product on your own?
There might be some special cases that can make the use of your product hard. For example, it will be hard for a team of guys to use products such as female inserts, pregnancy test and products intended for special user group or usage. However, if your product can be used by any gender and there are no other limitations, get your hands on it. Next, convince your team.
Founders as users
Let’s forget any personal opinions about product’s usefulness or even design. When you think about a great product, what are some examples that come up? What are some great products that are successful, on large scale? Chances are you will mention products such as Snapchat, Slack Instagram, Skype, Tesla, iPhone, Spotify, Dropbox, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter or Facebook.
All these products achieved their success thanks to the dedication of the people behind them. People who created these products were also using them every day. These people were the first users and often provided the first pieces of content if it was necessary. Who do you think posted the first post on Reddit? It was Alexis Ohanian. The first shot on Instagram? Kevin Systrom.
The same is true about Tesla and iPhone. Both, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk relentlessly tested these product on a daily basis. Then, they shared their observations with their teams. It was only through this hands-on approach, or eating their own dog food, iPhone and Tesla, are great and successful products. Yes, users and customers are crucial, but this is crucial as well.
It is only through daily usage how you and your team can find many issues. Especially, since there are usually issues you will not find in any other way, unless one of your users points it out. You should not rely on this. The majority of users are often very quiet. If your product doesn’t have some major flaw, they will often choose to ignore the issue.
Build a community
You have to start building community right when you start working on your product. There are few very good reasons for doing so. First, users will give you precious feedback that will help you move from mediocre to great product. Second, community of users will help you spread the word about your product. There is nothing better than positive word-of-mouth marketing.
Three types of users
When we talk about building a community we are talking about community of a specific type of user. We are talking about early adopters, evangelists, power users. These are the users we have to focus on, especially in the beginning of this adventure. Unless you managed to create a great product, such as by working on it for months before the first release, there will be problems. This is inevitable. Don’t worry about this.
Shipping a product that has flaws is a part of the process. There is even a famous quote by Reid Hoffman saying that “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” So, don’t wait with shipping until you have something perfect. Your product has to work. You can fix every issue and polish everything on the go.
Now, your main goal is to ship soon, ship quickly and ship often. Get your product to the hands of early adopters. These people will create the foundation of your community and also your user base. What is great on early adopters is that they are willing to try and use products with many flaws and tolerate them. This is why these people are so valuable.
Your product may stop responding during the use. It may even crash from time to time. There might be some issues with data. You may even lose of the data. Despite all these problems, many early adopters will have patience and keep using your product. They will believe in your product, support you, encourage you and provide you with precious feedback.
What’s more, many of the early adopters can also be very helpful in building community around your great product. Early adopters are often very active and help other new or less experienced users. They provide these newcomers with tips, advice and help them with solving issues while you work on the product. In this sense, early adopters often supplement your support.
The question is, where can we find early adopters? The answer is, where the talk is. Early adopters are enthusiastic people. You may have heard about them as geeks. These people like to talk about the subject of their interest. They are passionate about it. Specific places for finding early adopters will depend on the type of the product you are building.
In general, forums, communities, groups, blogs, reddits and social media are usually all great places where to start. One thing. When you start looking for early adopters, focus on people asking questions and following answers. These are likely to be early adopters. People answering the questions are more likely to be influencers. Now, you want the first.
After early adopters come evangelists. Remember that evangelists are those people who talk about your product, in a good sense, and recommend it to all people they know. If you are working hard and the result is a really great product, these people will take care of your marketing and PR. What is some way to find evangelists? Well, this might be a wrong question.
There is usually a process of a gradual transformation when early adopters actually become evangelist. In other words, it is not as much about finding evangelists as abut creating them. How? There is only one sure way we can transform your users into evangelist. That is by listening to your users, collecting their feedback and using it to building a great product.
In general, people talk only about two things. They talk about something really bad or really great. This means that if we build a great product evangelists will soon appear. This is a theory, but it often works. So, don’t look for evangelists. Instead, focus on your users and the community. Keep the communication flowing, listen and, most importantly, respond quickly.
Follow these simple guidelines. Take care of your users and nurture your community. Think beyond the terms of a product and a user. Remember that your users are real people. So, focus on building real relationships, on a personal level. As a result, people will soon start spreading by themselves. In other words, your users will become evangelists.
The last type of people we are looking for are power users. As the name suggests, these people use your product the most. When you see someone being on Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter almost whole day, it is a power user. Theorist speaking, both early adopters and evangelists can be also power users. You can have all these three types of users in one.
However, there is still some difference between these types. Remember, early adopters are enthusiasts willing to try new products and tolerate bugs and issues. Evangelists are people who talk about your product, in a positive sense, and spread the word about it. Power users are people who use your product the most. However, they may not talk about it.
There are many people who have some specific product, use it daily, but never say a word about it. You might be one of them. Do you have some great product you can’t live without? Do you talk about that product on social media and with your friends? If yes, you are both, evangelist and power user. If not, you are a power user.
It is important to mention that there is nothing wrong about not talking about the product. It is similar to introversion and extroversion. Some people just like to talk and some don’t. What matters is that they use your product. And, they often also provide you with valuable feedback. They use your product often. So, it is in their own interest to make it great.
How to find power users? This is the same thing as with evangelists. You don’t find power users. You create them. How? By building a great product. You have to constantly work on your product, improve it and make it better. Focus on usefulness and usability. As a result, some users will start to use it more frequently and gradually become power users.
Platform doesn’t matter, just stay active
There are many tools and places where you can build community for your product. For example, you can create a dedicated workspace on Slack. You can also create dedicated reddit on Reddit. Or, you can also create a group on Telegram, Skype, Spectrum, Discord, Gitter or WhatsApp. Another solution is to set up your own forum. You can use whatever platform you want.
The platform doesn’t matter. There are only two things that matter. First, you have to keep the community alive. Second, you have to be active participant. And, the same applies to your teammates. It is not enough to create place where your users can share their feedback, ideas, tips, advice and just talk. Such a community will be short-lived.
Remember that you and your team are crucial part of the community. When you invite your users to the community they will expect to see you there. You users will assume that the community is the best place to contact you and talk with you. And, you have to deliver on this assumption, even overdeliver. Use it to share news, updates and information about what is coming. Be active. Be responsive.
Focus on the core of your product
When you build a community of passionate users one thing will soon necessarily happen. Your users, at least some of them, will start to suggest ideas for implementation. This is often especially true in case of the most passionate users. They want to help you build a great product and they are using it the most. And, they usually have the most ideas.
This is not a bad thing. Users having ideas on how to improve or extend your product are great. It only shows how passionate and dedicated they are, how much they love your product. Yet, it can lead to something called feature creep. In short, you add one feature, then another and your product is soon bloated and overcomplicated, sometimes also harder to use and to maintain.
Consequences of adding features
Many of these features are non-essential. These features were not the reason you started building your product. Now, working on implementing all these features and their maintenance will become another burden for you and your team. You and your team will need more time to implement these features. Then, you will need more time to continually maintain your product.
What’s worse, every new feature often also introduces new bugs and issues. In other words, even more work and time. It is also important to say that not everyone will use these features, sometimes not even those who asked for them. There is a difference between “I would like to have X” and “I need to have X”. New features often belong to the first category. Solution?
Stay true to the core of your product. Focus on that one thing your product should do the best. When it comes to extending your product, let your users vote. When someone suggests an idea add it on the list, share it with the community and let everyone vote and share their opinion. However, this still doesn’t mean you should immediately implement some feature.
This is just a way to prioritize your list of suggested features. It is not a to do list. It is still only up to you and your team to decide what features will you implement, if any. A great example is Basecamp created by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Jason and David built a great product by focusing on the core of their product and keeping it simple.
My suggestion is following the same path. Don’t build everything your users want. Focus the most of your effort, time and resources on that one thing your product does the best. Work on bugs and usability. And, if you decide to add some feature, always think about the consequences, the time, effort and resources it will take to implement it and then maintain.
One last thing. If you decide to extend your product, start small and choose something very close to current functionality. It will be easier, faster and less stressful for you and your team to extend already existing functionality than to add something completely new. Start with that. You can always implement more significant changes later. Now, be agile.
Closing thoughts on how to build a great product
This is it. We are on the end of the second part of this mini series. Today, we discussed eating our own dog food. How important and beneficial it is to use your product every day, basically to become a power user. Then, we discussed building a community of passionate and dedicated users. We focused on three specific types of users and how helpful they can be.
Lastly, we talked about focusing on the core of the product, avoiding feature creep and how to extend our product. I hope you enjoyed this article and learned something that will help you build a great product. What’s next? We will talk about experimentation, scaling, growth hacking, metrics and much much more. Until then, thank you for your time and have a great day!
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