Two Things You Must Focus on When You Develop New Products


In an established company or at a startup, you have to go through a similar process when you’re in charge of developing a new product. [1]

You need to focus on the essence of marketing:

  1. Talking to customers and learning from their behaviour (Doing market research);
  2. Building a great product (Creating something remarkable to sell to your market). [2]

Before sales take off, you’re in the discovery phase.

Your priority is to hit product/market fit; you have to build a great product for the right market.

“In the first few weeks of a startup’s life, the founders really need to figure out what they’re doing and why. Then they need to build a product some users really love. Only after that they should focus on growth above all else.”

— Sam Altman, Investor & President of Y Combinator

What You Should Do Before Scaling

There’s no need to think about scaling, as long as you’re not sure that the market you’re targeting really wants your product.

To figure this out, you need to find ways to get your product in front of potential customers, learn from how they react, and implement what you’ve learnt into your product.

Today, consumers’ attention is worth a lot. Investing in advertising won’t get you anywhere at the beginning.

Don’t feel weird to start getting their attention manually, like a salesperson who goes door-to-door.

As Paul Graham recommends: “Do things that don’t scale.”

“One of the most common types of advice we give at Y Combinator is to do things that don’t scale. A lot of would-be founders believe that startups either take off or don’t. You build something, make it available, and if you’ve made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised. Or they don’t, in which case the market must not exist.

Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off.”

— Paul Graham, Author & Co-founder of Y Combinator

Don’t Get Bored by What Makes a Difference

There’s nothing über-glamorous during the discovery phase. You just need to make sure:

  • There’s a real and immediate problem to solve;
  • You’re building a great product and people enjoy using it;
  • You’re learning from each interaction between your product and your customers/users;
  • And you’re not burning too much cash.

Get yourself to focus on answering the big questions rather than spending too much time on the little things.

“Focus on the things that make for boring TV — sitting and coding, talking with customers, making sales calls.

Some founders love fundraising — it feels important, it’s fun. But no company has ever become great because it was great at fundraising.

You either build a great product and find a way to grow, or you don’t. Some startups are great at everything except this. They have the best attorney, they have a great logo. But unless they build something great, they’ll never succeed.

You have to get the big things really right, and allow the little things to be a little wrong.”

— Sam Altman, at the CS183C Stanford Entrepreneurship Class [3]

At the beginning, nothing matters more than talking to customers and building a great product.

Notes about Developing New Products

[1] This is a discussion I’ve had multiple times with startup founders and innovation departments of larger organisations. There’s this idea that developing new products has to follow the same strategy than pushing existing and successful ones.

If you think so, you’re putting the focus on the wrong things.

The discovery phase is about figuring out: (1) who cares about your new product and (2) how you can make them love what you’re creating.

[2] To succeed, any new product has to be “remarkable”. There’s a book on this topic that keeps inspiring me every time I read it: Purple Cow by Seth Godin.

[3] Here are some great resources to learn about entrepreneurship.


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