Make Sure You Do These 4 Things Before You Build A Product

Wouldn’t it be nice to know the demands of your product before you even launch? It would save you time, money, and a lot of guesswork.

The problem is that too many entrepreneurs are stuck with data that supports building a business, but not necessarily their business. They don’t know if their solution is something people want until it hits the market. Fortunately, there’s a way to find out demand for a product before launch.

But before we get into that, let’s discuss the systems that entrepreneurs currently employ to determine if they should build a business:

  1. Market size and trends
  2. Amount of competitors in a geographic region
  3. Study demographics to determine if their product will fit

Let’s use market size as an example. While statistics around market size are often great, they don’t point out what the demand would be for your business.

For instance, the weight-loss industry is worth about $50 billion, but that does that mean that a new weight loss product is a guaranteed success? Certainly not.

Entrepreneurs need a system to tell them of the demands for their potential product. And thanks to technology, entrepreneurs can now get a closer gauge at this demand.

We’ll be discussing just that in this blog post. The tools that entrepreneurs can use to get their idea out to potential customers and see if there actually is a demand for their solution.

I’m not advocating against looking at market size; I’m advocating for employing new methods in conjunction with traditional methods.

This can potentially save you months (if not years) of hard work and thousands (if not millions) of dollars. Read on…

1.  Set Up a Landing Page or a Simple 1 Page Site

The landing page is perhaps the best system we currently have to gauge interest.

If you have an idea for a product, here’s what you do:

  1. Get a domain name and set up on one page what your product does.
  2. On the page say “If you’re interested, please enter your email address.”
  3. Display your email address and have any questions directed to that address.
  4. Promote the heck out of the page. Keep it up until you feel you have a statistically significant amount of visitors.
  5. If you don’t get the response you were looking for, don’t build it. If the response is good, build it. Be sure to have a goal set in mind before you launch the page.

If you don’t want to spend the time setting up a landing page, you can use a tool like Launch Rock or Kickofflabs.

Recycled Style Launch Rock Example

Don’t say that it’s only an idea. It’ll make it sound like its months or years out from being built and you’re leaving it open for someone to copy and actually build the product. Make it appear as if there’s a product being built.

If possible, make a video that explains how the product works. You don’t need to actually show any screenshots to do this.

Check out the video on the Dropbox homepage. They discuss the product without showing any screenshots.

Here are some examples of beta signup pages that could look similar to what a landing page could be.

This beta page does a nice job telling what the product does:

mailrox example

I like the simplicity in this beta page:

pomodoro example

Another one:

real estate app

Unfortunately, these beta pages do not tell the uniqueness of their business.

I’d advocate sharing the uniqueness of your idea on the landing page. But remember, don’t tell them it’s an idea. Tell them it’s an actual product that’s being built.

Here’s a landing page I quickly drew up. It’s for what is now known as Twitter.

zach's landing page idea

Obviously, you don’t want to go for this design. Rather, tell people what the product is about. Give them enough information so they’ll know if it’s something they’d want to use. At the same time keep it simple and succinct.

It’s also important that you set some guidelines before you even set up the page. Ask yourself:

  1. At what point is it statistically significant to say that I have enough data?
  2. What percentage of total visitors should ask for a beta invite? If 20% or more ask, is that good enough to build the product?

Here’s one of the best things about this method:

If you decide to launch, you already have hundreds or thousands of potential customers lined up.

And if you don’t get enough email addresses, scrap the project. There’s no money wasted and a lot saved.

2.  Ask Potential Customers

Go where your audience and potential customers are and tell them about your idea. Listen to their problems and see if your solution is one that might fit.

No matter what market you’re thinking about entering, there’s a website for it. Go to these sites and be a participant. If you have money, you may even want to buy some ad space for your landing page.

When appropriate, tell people about your idea and get their feedback. If it’s done in a courteous manner, you’ll get feedback that can help. For instance, many tech entrepreneurs have heard of the site Hacker News. In that site, people show their product to all Hacker News readers in posts titled “Show HN”.

show hacker news

Dropbox was one product that started this way. They also received over 10,000 Diggs overnight. Their waiting list went from 5,000 to 75,000. These are pretty good signs people wanted their product and it was worth building.

The key is to speak to a targeted demographic, as they are the ones who will provide you with the best feedback. Speak to them in an authentic way and take all feedback you can get from them.

You can also meet people face-to-face. Ask them about their problems and you’ll get to see if your product could be a potential solution. If you have one, you can also tell them about your landing page.

3.  See if There Have Been Other Products Similar to Your Idea

Your idea may be nothing new. It could have been a product that existed years before but never caught on.

Often times, a good product just has bad timing and doesn’t catch on until years later when someone else tries it.

So if your idea has been proposed before, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t launch the product. Groupon was not the first group buying site. Google was not the first search engine. Facebook was not the first social network. Yet these brands seem to have done it better than any predecessor. Many of them learned and didn’t repeat the mistakes.

MySpace was a product that from the start had a lot of problems. This was the home screen MySpace users would see:

Facebook brought a newer, cleaner interface. Perhaps above all, they also had status updates. Most importantly, the kept spam under control (which was a HUGE problem at MySpace). People had a reason to go back to Facebook to see what their friends were up to without getting bothered by tons of spam messages and comments:

The Facebook profile pages were cleaner:

Facebook capitalized on MySpace’s user pain points and today they are the leader in social networking.

Learning why the idea you’re proposing today has failed before is an important step in determining if you want to proceed in building the product. Was the product too early? What was the feedback at the time? Learn about the failed product and you may gain some insights that you wouldn’t of previously had.

4. Google it

Yes, even Google can help you understand demands.

By using a tool like Google Keyword, you can gauge the volume of monthly searches for a specific term. For instance, if your idea is for a premium web based email, you can type “premium web based email” in the search box. If there are not a lot of people who search for it, you can then understand what kind of demand it has.

google keyword tool

Click on the image above to see a larger version.

It’s not the be all and end all, but it’ll help you get a good idea of what people are looking for.

If you’re aware of any competitors, try Googling them. Since Google puts recent news in their results pages, you’ll stay up to date on the activity of your competition. Beyond news, you may also be able to find general feedback of their product. Customers post about all types of products on the internet; and if you take the time to look you’ll be able to find some very valuable information.

Let’s Hear It!

So there are four things that you can do to gauge demand for a possible product. As always, let me know of your feedback in the comments.

About the Author: Zach Bulygo is a blogger for KISSmetrics, you can find him on Twitter here. You can also follow him on Google+.

  1. Zach, great post! One thing I am doing on CarSparkApp.com that I would recommend is to add a signup level, with pricing, so that I can gauge interest for each pricing level. This has yielded some interesting insights, and likely I will raise my prices at launch time. This idea was stole… borrowed from the guys at Buffer. I think it was well worth the small additional effort to do this. In addition, when the time comes to go live, I can message users very precisely about their pricing/package level.

    • Hey Ben–
      That is an excellent idea. I wish I would of thought of this, but I’m glad you’re adding input. Thanks a lot!

      By the way, I like your website!

    • Ben, great idea. Your landing page is like a fully launched service. I only know it’s a beta site when I click on one of the pricing tiers. This is a great way to filter for the truly interested customers. Since they have clicked the “buy” button sort of speak. Nice.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out to KickoffLabs!

  3. Hi Zach
    Very useful post. Changed my direction of thinking.
    partha

  4. Awesome ideas Zach. What do you think of the Tim Ferriss-inspired idea to put a BUY button on the landing page/site to gauge actual buyers versus the “just looking” crowd? Is that going too far in your opinion?

    • Hey Salma,
      I like Tim Ferriss and I think this is a pretty good idea. So after people press the BUY button the page will just say “the product isn’t available yet, we’ll notify you via email when it launches.” Yeah, I think it’s a good idea. Not everyone who presses the BUY button will end up buying once the product becomes available, but you’ll get a better gauge than just asking for email.

      Also, if you could test different prices and see what gets a better response. For example, if $49 gets a couple people to click BUY, but $29 gets 15 people to click BUY, you could email (if you decide to build the product) the $49 people and notify them (perhaps in the email subject) of a cheaper price.

      Yeah, I like it. I think there’s a lot of different ways you can take it.

      Thanks so much for providing that to us!

  5. Great post here guys!

    I have been testing certain characteristics of my sales funnel like you mentioned above and I’ve found the biggest difference to be having an invisible buy button that appears when the price is introduced.

  6. As someone who is constantly working on developing new products and ideas I found this to be a great article on gauging the public interest. The only thing I would add is that for smaller companies, it would be difficult to generate enough traffic to that landing page without spending a considerable amount of money promoting it.

    I fully understand the value of a landing page but it is only effective if enough people land on it.

    • Yeah, there are various ways you can promote it for free, but you may need to fork over a little bit of cash.

      I guess the way that I look at it is that it could save you money in the long run if you find that most aren’t interested in what you’re proposing.

  7. On the topic of getting visitors, CarSpark is very much a bootstrapped effort. I had a google Adwords $100 credit, and spent about $25 to meet my hypothesis. I wanted 5% of the site visitors to click through to the plans/signup page, and at least five signups. I got closer to 40% clickthrough, and got plenty of email addresses to make it clear there is a need for this!

    I think it all depends on your goals, and how saturated the keywords are. Obviously my efforts are pretty small scale, but I’m happy with that!

    -Ben

    -Ben

  8. Hi
    for online selling products YES, but for semi offline and offline products this method will not work i guess!
    Example – Sleep Mask
    Is there a way you could help here?

    • Not necessarily Primus. For a sleeping mask, one could put a couple hundred bucks in Facebook Ads or Google Ads (like Ben did) and send people to their landing page.

      I’m sure that one could also let people know about their product on health boards (maybe an ad on Huffington Post Healthy Living?) that would lead to the landing page that explains the concept of the product. The landing page can have an email opt-in, or a Buy button, as previous commenters have mentioned.

      You can also use the Google keyword tool and search for “sleep mask” and see the recommendations.

      Is this BEST for online products? Probably. But it doesn’t mean it won’t work for physical products.

  9. Hey!

    zach,you did a great job man.before read your article i didn’t know about the right uses of landing pages,i would like to thank you for such a nice article.

    Thanks!

  10. hey Zach!
    Thanks for giving simple tips. and i noticed that facebook has simple and synchronized features as compared to MySpace. and this thing made facebook more popular, and obviously people needed it. Overall Great post, i must say.
    Thanks.
    Matt

  11. There is a single word called “Strategy” that encompasses all and perhaps more of the stuff you’ve mentioned. I’d say hire a strategist. What essentially is articulated here is how do you get metrics that provide sound basis to the Strategy for a “go ahead” or “refine”.

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