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  • Wei-Ling Chiu

(Great) Products are built with (amazing) customers

Building products with users

and learn how to respect your engineering colleagues' time.

Pick a product, service or platform - and, go!

The next step in your start-up journey is one you’ll repeat regularly - build a product, find customers. But first you need to narrow that product, or offering, down. Read on for our insights into how to do this.

A product is a tool that solves your customer’s problem successfully and consistently enough that they want to have access to it all or most of the time. A product has a user and a one-to-one interaction element - for example your phone, or a screwdriver.

A service is a broader offering - it may solve several needs or problems within one tool for a segment of users. It is available on demand, and could involve interacting with humans, things or tools. A service involves a one-to-many interaction and can have one to several million users - for example your internet service.

A platform is even broader. Platforms involve more than one user type interacting with a tool to solve their individual needs, orchestrated by the platform so that one user type solves a problem for the other user type and vice-versa.

When you build a platform business, you are building a service business and a product business in one. AirBnB, for example, runs a hospitality service, but its offering is a platform for room owners (user type one) to rent out their spare rooms and visitors (user type two) to find accommodation.

A platform business has the potential to evolve into an information platform. In creating this intense interaction between different user types, the platform gathers valuable information that can disrupt entire industries. Google Ad Networks, Linked in Ads, and even ChatGPT are examples of information platforms.

Tl;dr: Repeat usage is essential to a product, service or platform.

The string of pearls in product development

The use case, user story or problem is the most fundamental step in product development. Written in first person, it describes the need your product aims to solve. It is the story of your product and if yours is a product business, and you can’t write this story, you shouldn’t be here.

Examples of use cases include finding a cab close by, or buying groceries. Everyone from the sales guy to the engineer and CEO in the founding team should be able to articulate a user story. If you find gaps here you need to go back to step one.

Once you’ve developed your use cases, your workflow is what will make your product functional - eg, open an app, input your location, request a driver etc. Without a workflow your engineer is going to struggle to build your product.

Then you’ll develop a mockup - a well designed version of the workflow - which can be demonstrated to early users to get feedback on the design. In hardware terms this can be a prototype.

The use case, workflow and mockup constitute a design. Once that’s all done - congratulations - you have your first release!

Your release needs to go through a user acceptance test - a process you follow within your team - to check if it meets the expectation set in the design phase.

Acceptance testing is critical because while your user will be patient about gaps in their understanding, they will not be patient with your inability to meet their needs. Always test internally before handing over to a user. If it persistently fails the internal test, move on to the next need.

Once your release is ready, tested and perfected, it goes live and becomes generally available.

Keep talking to your customers to get ongoing feedback and evolve your product as you go. Nothing replaces a conversation with your customers after they have used your offering for a few weeks, but some tools like the ones listed below can be useful if you have more users than you can meet regularly.

Recommended Tools

Essential Reading

  1. Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail

  2. 4 Hour work week by Tim Ferris

  3. Good to Great by Jim Collins


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