Building successful products isn’t about hustle or luck— use science and empathy instead
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You work hard to build your product, but somehow it feels like the success you dream of is always just out of reach. You’re doing everything the experts say you should, but it’s still not enough.
You talk to users, but their feedback doesn’t always make sense. And when you build what they ask for, they don’t use it.
If only users knew what they really wanted, you’d have gotten it to them already.
You share exciting ideas with your team, trying to steer the ship and anticipating that your team will be excited to build out what you’ve asked for. Instead, they question your every move.
If only others were as passionate about this product as you are, you’d be shipping everything you envision, on time and under budget.
Nonetheless, you ship as often as you can, because you’ve heard advice like Reid Hoffman’s that if you’re not embarrassed by your first version, you’ve launched too late. But then you show what you’ve shipped to people and they tear it apart, telling you about all the mistakes.
If only you had waited until it matched your vision, your product would market itself because you’d have users telling everyone how much they love it.
You read articles and listen to podcasts to try to learn what you’re missing, and all you end up with is a feeling that you’re drowning in advice and other people’s success stories. Everyone else seems to be getting it right.
When will you start seeing results from all this hard work?
You’re starting to wonder if all of these stories you hear are lies. It’s not working for you like it worked for them. But you keep going, because you’re not a quitter. The day-to-day life is hard, but you’re not afraid of hard work.
It will all pay off when you finally launch that big feature that will drive the hockey stick growth, right?
Just writing about this is making me feel stressed — because I’ve been there.
Ten years ago, I lived this life as part of the team at an early-stage startup. We were creative and passionate. We were working hard, sustained by our vision and the success stories around us. We were willing to sacrifice for our dream, living on a small budget and forgoing the salaries we could have earned elsewhere, believing that we needed to take the chance that it would pay off. And it could have — the vision was great. So great, in fact, that you probably would recognize a product that’s successful today that does more or less what we envisioned a decade ago.
Even all these years later, that story is painful to talk about. Long story short, we never quite reached product-market fit. After several years of hard work, I moved on to a product management career, developing products for other people’s startups. Over the years as a product manager at scaling startups, I’ve learned so much that I wish I knew a decade ago. With over a dozen successful product launches under my belt, I can now say confidently:
Imagine that you launch your product in under 3 months, generating rave reviews from your target users. They love that it solves a real problem for them and excitedly ask you for more. And the things they ask for are exactly what you expected them to want next — things that you’re already working on. These users are happy to give you feedback on your prototypes and you confidently develop a plan to get you from this phase to your vision. A year later, your key metrics are 10x higher than where you started, and you are excitedly growing your product and team as everyone keeps moving passionately towards your vision.
Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
Well I want to tell you that it’s not out of reach. I’ve lived that dream several times, with a mobile health messaging platform, with a UX redesign and replatforming for MediaMath’s ad-tech platform, and with Shutterstock Editor (a design tool for nondesigners to create professional designs).
So what’s the secret? Is it just luck? For some companies —companies that do it once but struggle to do it again —maybe it is. But for those of us, founders and product leaders who have launched successful new products again and again, it’s not luck, it’s science — product science.
Why You Should Apply Science to Your Product Process
Product science is a repeatable, science-based approach to building high-growth products in an uncertain world. Click To Tweet It combines user science (the application of psychological and behavior science principles to understand and predict user behavior) with lean and agile development practices, modern management principles, and intentional culture setting to build innovative products and top product teams.
The world’s top tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix use the principles of product science to disrupt behemoth markets and change the world, forever. These tech giants hire those with experience in disciplines like user research, behavior design, data science, product management, and growth marketing, and they use these skills to develop evidence-based product strategies, which lead to the products that we use everyday.
Ten years of working in tech in both survive-or-die and scaling situations has taught me how to build products that people love, and now I’m on a mission to teach it to everyone who wants to launch successful products. Let’s use product science to solve people’s problems, and advance your vision, together.
Will you join me?
Many thanks to Jessica Schimm for her help in editing this article.
Also published on Medium.