“Building a great product is the best of business plans, after all, great companies are built on great products.”
Is a great product (or any product for that matter) ultimately just a collection of N-number of features? Well, perhaps it is a collection of features in a way, but not just of any random ones. You get a great product when the group of features add up to meaningful user journeys and add value to the user. That is one of the (few) things that the product team at KeyValue unanimously agrees on.
Now let's be realistic. There is no one product that everyone likes. That’s just how it works.
Perhaps there is no universal formula that adds up to a great product. But if you dissect some of the best products in the world you will inevitably see some patterns emerging. And by pooling the collective experience of the product team and debating extensively, we have tried to come up with a framework that a great product would fit into.
Does it have a value proposition?
This one’s a no-brainer! Any product should have a clear value proposition that solves a real problem. If it looks cool but doesn't serve a purpose then it is unlikely to be used by anyone. But it doesn’t end there. Something that often gets overlooked is whether this value proposition is easy to explain. Ask yourself this, can you deliver an elevator pitch about your product? If you can, then you are on the right track!
Take Google search for example: “Make a query and find anything on the internet”. Or Whatsapp: “Text anyone over the internet”. In fact, having a value proposition that is easy to explain makes up two out of five levels of the product pyramid, but we feel that these two are too closely related to be separated out.
Is it easy to use?
Usability and an accessible UX are some things that people can often overlook when they think that they have a million-dollar idea on their hands. Take products like Sketch and Canva. They are gaining huge traction among users because they are incredibly easy to use compared to traditional solutions like Photoshop. YouTube was forced into introducing shorts when TikTok’s growth exploded. Great products tend to have a very little barrier to entry and are relatively easy to use.
Can it grow organically?
Great products generally grow with minimal advertising effort. Organic growth is more of an indicator that you are going in the right direction rather than something you try to bake into the product. Such products are heavily advertised only after their organic growth plateaus. But while organic growth is definitely a good indicator of having a great product in hand, the lack of organic growth cannot be associated with the opposite. Given the amount of competition in SEO and the industry in general, organic growth is quite a difficult benchmark to achieve these days.
Understand why products failed in the past
You don’t need the first-mover advantage to make a great product. In fact products like Google and Facebook which have changed the world, in a sense, were not the first to the market. Looking at what previously existed in the market and learning from their mistakes paves a good way towards creating a great product.
A lot of products tend to make the mistake of trying to do too much, too early. Understand that the product always has a core value proposition. Then you build value-added features around it. But in this course, if you lose track of the original value proposition, more often than not, you end up with a failed product. The competition always gives a sense of what is working in a market and what is not. Your USP could just be a unique way to tackle a problem, but pick a problem and solve it right rather than trying to solve 10 problems poorly (and failing at that).
Data over intuition
Believe it or not, a lot of great products started off as something else. Founders and PMs tend to be extremely passionate about their ideas and this can sometimes give them tunnel vision. It helps to detach from the whole thing and take a top-level view of what the user behavior is suggesting to understand if you are on the right track. If not, then don’t hesitate to pivot. This can get tough to do when you have invested a lot in an idea of a feature but this brings us back to the first point of building what the user wants. It is also important to directly interact with the customers and not just depend on metrics or surveys to capture the user's emotions successfully.
This is among the points that we stress the most in KeyValue. Making incremental changes, measuring their impact, and then making the next move is one of the most tried and tested methods of building a great product. The concept of a lean startup is not something new. It favors customer feedback and iterative design over traditional development. But as founders and PMs, it is easy to get ahead of ourselves and keep pushing out way too many things before evaluating if we are on the right track. This also ensures that you save valuable resources that would otherwise have been wasted on eventually discarded features. As a principle, the build-ship-iterate model is one the most important methods of building great products sustainably and could substantially increase your profits.
Every year at CES we see some amazing concepts on display. But more often, these concepts never get shipped as consumer products. This applies to a lot of ideas that sometimes don’t scale past a certain point. Scalability is a crucial factor in building great products. This is one of the things that hold back hardware products and products that involve a lot of labor like those involving deliveries. In an ideal world, your product should be able to grow exponentially with minimal increases in your expenses. Cloud service providers are a good example of this. It is a costly affair to build a company like AWS or Azure. But once built, there is little to additional expense for each new user that signs up. Social media apps are also a similar case. There is very little increase in expenses for each new user that signs up, but there will be a meaningful change in revenue.
A virtuous circle essentially means that the product will become harder to dispense the more the user engages with it. Social media is an example of this. At some point, it has become a part of our daily routine to check our social accounts first thing in the morning! Of course, social media might not be the best example of adding indispensable value to a person's life. Take the case of a smartphone as an example. Once a user is habituated to using a smartphone it is almost impossible to go back because of what the user would end up giving up. Great products almost always end up habituating the user to them.
Having a great team
Perhaps this is something that is underrated. A dedicated team plus the right people in the right roles can go long way toward pushing the boundaries of a product. Everyone knows the role that Steve Jobs played in building Apple but a lot of them overlook the brilliance of Steve Wozniak who built the hardware. If this duo never worked together then Apple might not have become the company it is today.
Dazzlink, Keyvalue’s own product, was the result of a ton of people taking ownership of the product and spending their free time building it. When you have a team that treats the product as their own, the results can be mind-boggling! This is something that should not get overlooked.
Great products are those that solve a real problem, are easy to use, and are easy to explain. This framework of defining a great product is something that the product developers at KeyValue tries to follow while working on the numerous projects that we have active. We recommend that you think of a few products that fit into this framework and evaluate if you would define them as great!