How to launch products that people actually want

Is a great idea enough?

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs learn the answer to that question the hard way.

“The first company I ever built was built purely for the love of building the solution,” says Ash Maurya, author of Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works.

In fact, Ash was so in love with his solution that he kept it under wraps, making the few people who knew about it swear to secrecy. “We just kept building, thinking if all we did was build this product and just show it to the world, magic would happen,” says Ash.

But when he finally revealed it to the world, no one cared.

“[It’s] what I call the unbridled passion for the solution,” he says. “It’s become one of those leading causes of subsequent failure, because what we build is not really what people want at the end of the day.”

These days Ash only builds products that people really want. That’s how he built companies like CloudFire, Wired Reach, and Spark59. In his Mixergy course, he shows you the system he uses.

Here are three highlights from the course:

1. It’s All In Your Head

head
Ash’s first product failed because he ran with an idea he loved, without knowing if his business model would really work.

But testing your assumptions when you launch your product is very risky! “If [we’re] just going out there and building something, or going out there and trying to sell it, it may not work,” says Ash.

And at that point, you have everything on the line.

So how do you figure out if your business model will work?

Write a Lean Canvas

Put pen to paper, and write down your plan.

“Oftentimes, we pay lip service to writing business plans, no one does it these days,” says Ash. But we have to “convince ourselves on paper that this makes sense,” he says.

And it’s much less painful than it sounds. In fact, it takes just 20 minutes to write what Ash calls a “lean canvas”, which is a list of your core assumptions.

“Identify what it is that you know today and what it is that you don’t,” he says. “What you want to ask yourself is, ‘What underlying problem is it solving?’”

2. Don’t Serve Multiple Customers


Many entrepreneurs think that the world is their customer base.

“We all start with a solution, and we think that if we build this thing that it’s going to be the best thing since sliced bread,” says Ash. “And often we say, ‘I want to serve everyone, so I’m building a cloud-sharing app, or a photo-sharing app, and anyone that has large files or anyone who has lots of photos could be a potential segment.’”

The problem is that when you try to speak to every kind of potential customer, no one feels like you understand their specific problems.

So which customers should you try to reach?

Get to know your early adopters

Figure out who your early adopters will be, says Ash.

Then, anticipate their problems and write them down in your business plan.

“If you can identify with them, and fulfill your promise to them, it may not be your full
addressable market, but it gets you noticed,” says Ash. “If you look at that pattern,
even companies like Facebook…started with a very specific customer segment of the early adopter, which happened to be a college student, but not just any college student, but one on the Harvard campus. They…start with a clear definition of who their early adopters are, and then they grow it from there.”

3. You Are Not a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake


Your customers are getting bombarded with messages every, single day.

“One of the biggest challenges that we face, when we put a new product out there, especially when nobody knows us, is standing out,” says Ash. “Tons of people are always saying the same thing, ‘Well, you have large files, come use our service.’”

So how do you get your target customer’s attention?

Make a promise

Define your unique value proposition (UVP).

“This is the thing that matters most, initially, to customers,” says Ash. “When they see that unique value proposition, it’s you saying, ‘If you use my product, this is the benefit you’re going to get.’ It’s not to make the sale, but it’s to get the attention and make the customer say, ‘Wow. That sounds interesting. Let me learn more.’”

So how you you develop a UVP?

“Try to figure out what is [the early adopter’s] number one problem,” says Ash. “What do you think matters the most to your customer…and if they were to use your solution, what would happen to them? What would be that benefit?”

Get the rest of the course here.

Cheat sheet written by April Dykman.

  • freshaesthetics

    This is gold!

  • Arie, Community Manager

    :)

  • http://patrickfoley.com/about Patrick Foley

    One thing I learned from Ash – don’t listen to your “free” customers for feature advice. Listen to your customers who actually pay. It’s easy to get caught up in the trap of “if you add another feature, then I’ll pay.” usually they don’t.
    He summed it up like this: Freemium is a marketing strategy. Focus on your paying customers first.

    Ash is awesome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/n8hirst Nate Hirst

    I’m taking an entreprenuer class that teaches a lot of the same things. Awesome stuff.

  • Chris Ramsey

    Ash’s point about not going after different types of customers is spot on.

    I learned this lesson the hard way by wasting a ton of money on ads that didn’t convert. When I started writing my ads to speak to just ONE person the conversions skyrocketed.

    Lesson learned: Write your ads specifically to one customer and ignore everyone else.

  • http://twitter.com/Larry_Lawal Larry

    How to run lean

  • http://twitter.com/mpcstudios MPC Studios, Inc.

    Focus on your customer – how important! We try to please everyone and that never works.

  • http://twitter.com/ConvoCounts Becca Niederkrom

    Great key points in a launch. When a potential customer reads your marketing copy, they must see themselves with that challenge. Its all about self selection!

  • http://www.facebook.com/therevchrisyaw Chris Yaw

    Writing a lean canvas is a great idea – this is one thing founders can learn: it doesn’t have to be the magna carta!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rishi.manchanda Rishi Manchanda

    Great stuff. Founders like myself have much to learn from this methodology. In my field, healthcare, we often forget to apply the scientific method to test our assumptions about the problem, the patient, or the solution.

  • Emanuele Venditti

    very well worded! Can’t wait to hear more! Love the “you’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake!!”! A Useful thing for everyone to learn and remember!

  • Jason Lynch

    This course seems to be a needed dose of reality. So many times people are so passionate about an idea, and everyone around them smiles and nods because they’re afraid to say what they really think.

  • http://twitter.com/Jamieleger Jamie Leger

    I know that all founders can learn the EXTREMELY VITAL value of KNOWING YOUR UVP. That means that you know EVERYONE else in the market, as well as the values and defining principles and purpose for your mission.

  • http://twitter.com/clickryan Ryan Gamble

    I’ve followed Ash ever since he MVP’d a model to share pictures with an older demographic / kids photos to grandparents. He’s a subject matter expert b’c he’s hacked over 10,000 hrs for sure on how to do it the lean way. I bought his lean book in .pdf version b’c I wanted to get to his secret sauce methodology as soon as possible. I recommend Ash to anyone starting a company with limited resources!
    #thisisPlatinum
    #1 tip is get to release 1.0, get feedback often and early into the loop, iterate and don’t be afraid to pivot!

  • chris hohenstein

    Creating unique propistion is key imo. Too many generic ideas out there make the most markets saturated with crap

  • http://www.facebook.com/peichen.chang.58 Peichen Chang

    #2 is my favorite. Focus.

  • Mike Vedomske

    One thing founders can learn from Ash’s methodology is that they should focus on the early adopters, NOT everyone. These people drive the next phase and eventual adoption by the masses.

  • http://twitter.com/Brandspiration Kimberly Bordonaro

    One thing founders can learn from Ash’s method? Memorize this:

    Validate + concentrate, + differentiate = launch success

  • http://twitter.com/gregorylgo Gregory Go

    I think there’s a whole process on learning who you are and how honest you are with yourself before you can test the market jest without shoving your idea down their throats (happens a lot). It comes down to treating others like you would want other to treat yourself – when was the last time someone forced their idea or solution to you without seeking to care? Understanding this feeling helps treat other people like people so you can speak to them rather than a faceless crowd.

  • Gabor Vitez

    Great stuff!
    Build something you know has a market, do not base this decision on wishful thinking.

  • Rahul Makhija

    I think there are just too many start up that fail due to bad planning. I think these points can help many entrepreneurs. I know how many people try to focus on the masses rather than creating a product for a spec set of audience. These are some great tips.

  • court

    Learning realize that everyone is not just like you is part of knowing your customer. You may feel very strongly about the UVP you offer, but without realizing how different the “other” can be you can get sucked into overestimating your customer base. What are the variants of the initial pain point? and do you serve them too?

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.comish.1 Chris Comish

    Great course. Love #2 as well.

  • MannyS

    “Figure out who your early adopters are”.

    That is the question. If you don’t know who your product is for, since you haven’t gotten any feedback yet, then how do you know what kind of early adopters you should be looking for to get feedback? That’s the problem that needs to be solved!

  • Vivienne Hunter

    I hear you.. working out the early adopters is something i need to know more about how to do!!!

  • Ramesh Pondhe

    Not a unique snowflake would want to learn more so I can tell exactly the same

  • http://foliovision.com Alec Kinnear

    Ash’s core insight seems to be to focus on the single point of pain and not get lost in multiple promises or complex solutions. He’s right on the money: a successful one-trick pony will take you a long way. There’s lots of time for complexity later.

  • Cheryl

    I think the hardest and most important thing to learn is that you have to be ready to hear that your baby is ugly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mickeylieu Michael Lieu

    I certainly appreciate Ash’s point about not serving multiple customers. When singing a product, we generalised our customers as “travellers”. The only problemius that everyone travels! It wasn’t until we got to know our customers, as Ash suggested, that we fully understood our target market.

  • http://item-9.com Jason Pelker

    This course was created or startups but the lean philosophy can be applied to life in general. Hypothesis + performance + feedback + revision.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jadabreu J. Andres De Abreu

    1 thing founders can learn from Ash’s methodology: how to test your assumptions fast!

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Awwwww Laaaarrrrry. Can you expand on that?

  • James

    I think focusing on your ideal customer is everything. To many business owners and start ups try to be everything to everyone. Find your early adopter and concentrate on solving a problem they have. The rest will follow. As Ash rightly points out – look at Facebook!

  • http://twitter.com/zandergalloway Zander Galloway

    Reading Running Lean right now. It has gotten me in the mindset to ALWAYS test assumptions. If I ever get to the point where I assume my potential customer thinks or acts a certain way, I stop and actually test the hypothesis. Not doing so can have disastrous consequences.

  • reggiedog

    “Male sure you correlate results back to specific actions” (p. 64).

    It is so busy doing stuff and with things changing so fast that it is easy to not spend the effort to really understand exactly WHY the results occurred. Specific actions should progress to real insight, hey, “we’re up, cool!”.

  • http://reidwalley.com Reid Walley

    Just introduced a client to Lean Startup. They’re kicking themselves for producing 1,000 units before finding a single friggin paying customer! They’re so damn happy that there’s a scientific/hypothesis-testing approach.

    Phase one: start the list of who we think early adopters are, then get out and test it. It’s possible that the first half of our list won’t be early adapters at all – LOL. That’s okay. We’ll keep testing and learning.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/sholaabidoye/ Shola Abidoye

    Nice Observation….

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Thanks Becca! Can you email me at arie@mixergy.com? I want to send you your course.

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Can you email me at arie@mixergy.com? I want to get the course to you but I don’t have your email address :)

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Jamie–can you shoot me an email at arie@mixergy.com? I want to send you the course.

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Haha !!

  • Arie, Community Manager

    huh?

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Patrick I tried emailing you but it bounced back. Can you shoot me an email at arie@mixergy.com? I want to send you the course.

  • http://NirBenita.me/ Nir Benita

    That’s awesome!

  • BRANDARA

    It’s so easy to fall into the “I’ll just work on this idea for one more week before releasing it” trap, and then 6 months later you still haven’t told one person. Sh!t. I just realised this is me RIGHT NOW!! Thanks for the reminder!

  • Arie, Community Manager

    I almost want you to followup in one week about this.

  • BRANDARA

    Oh s#it. The word “accountability” just flashed across my mind and a million excuses filled my brain. Ok. One week. Something will be done! (thanks).

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Haha : FIVE DAYS..

  • BRANDARA

    Ok, so I’m late – does the fact that I’m on a trip in the Greek islands with only an iPad count? (excuses, excuses). So, thanks to you, my virtual accountability partner, I have:

    1. Finally settled on a name and a logo (as a brand strategist it has been a pain in the ass to create my own brand).

    2. Spent a day figuring out the exact design that I want for my site, put together a rough JPEG and found a developer in India to whip it up for me.

    3. Emailed the list from my existing travel blog (tellemstories.com) to tell them that the launch of a new business will be arriving in the coming weeks.

    Not bad considering I have been labouring over all of the above for months and months…we’ll see what I can do in another week. Thanks again!

  • Arie at Mixergy

    This just made my day–you have no idea!

  • BRANDARA

    Well thanks for the kick start – I’ll just have to keep the momentum going!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=622131989 Chris Robock

    Thanks for the kick in the butt about not talking to people about what I’m doing. I plan on going live in just a couple more weeks, and by keeping quiet about it, I’ve noticed that it’s easier to get distracted from my work than if I had some accountability. So, I’ll put some accountability here, and say that by May 20th, I’ll be officially launching my company.

  • http://twitter.com/Jamieleger Jamie Leger

    Sent. A little late… but nonetheless… sent. Thanks!

  • BRANDARA

    Arie! Here we are…the comments tell me we are 4 months since that well-timed “I almost want you to follow up in one week about this” reply you made… well I’d like to officially update that my website/business is Online! Active! and with a growing daily database!

    http://www.theportl.com

    Think “The Secret” but all hyped up, modernized and designed to within an inch of its life…

    It’s early days – plenty more content to get up there, but I just wanted to stop by and thankyou for the kick in the right direction!!

  • Arie at Mixergy

    This is glorious. I love the aesthetic of the site. Great work.