Building anything is an iterative process. Every great product that you can think of did not start out being great but evolved into something great. You start with the rough idea and focus on a narrow customer segment. The idea is not to focus on features but focus on the value to the customer. Asking tough questions like why should anyone use this, how can it help them solve their problem. This is asking for feedback and customer development. It is a great way to get started. Adora Cheug gave the 4th lecture in the How to Start a Startup class, where she described her journey of building HomeJoy. She was one of the Y Combinator alum and Paul Graham famously shared the J Curve of her company without disclosing that it was a female founder and according to Paul, a number of VCs were clamoring him to find out which company was this and how they could invest in the team. Paul G used this company as an example in his lecture to advise founders to focus on building a product that has a growth curve like the one above. Obviously the way to get to a growth graph like this depends heavily on building a great product that users love. Here is Adora Cheug sharing her story of how to get started with getting users. Here is a transcript of the lecture for your reference.
The strategies discussed in the lecture are only relevant if you build a great product. Fred wrote a blog post with references to 2 books, I have not read those book but I plan to read them. Book 1 is about building a great product
Randy Hunt is the Creative Director at Etsy. He built and leads Etsy’s team of designers who help create Etsy’s web and mobile applications. He has taken everything he’s learned in that role over the past five years and put it down on paper. The book is called Product Design For The Web, but it is highly relevant for designing mobile applications as well. The great thing about Randy’s book is you don’t need to be deeply technical to get value out of it. In fact, I think it might be most useful to someone who is just getting into designing interactive applications.
Book 2 is about getting customer feedback
My friend Frank Rimalovski has been a VC since the late 90s. He currently runs theNYU Entrepreneurial Institute and the NYU Innovation Venture Fund. He explains inthis blog post that in the 16 years he’s been working with entrepreneurs, he has seen countless numbers of them build something first and only then seek customer feedback. Frank believes that seeking feedback after you’ve built the product is tough because by then you are so invested in your product that you don’t hear the negatives well enough. And so he and another friend, and sometimes commenter at AVC, Giff Constable, have written Talking To Humans, a book that explains how to do the customer development interviews in a way that will get you the most accurate and actionable feedback.
The thing to learn from the above 3 references is that when you are building a product in the very early stages, you need to focus on sales and not marketing. I have seen this happen a lot. Read this article by Jessica Livingston, where she advises startups to focus on sales and not on marketing.