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To Build A Winning Product, Bake In One These Two Levers
Most people who write about product management & leadership talk a lot about team culture.
They write about different leadership styles, how to use Scrum more effectively, or different tactics for becoming more agile, for example.
Yet none of this stuff matters if we your product isn’t built upon the right foundations.
If you want to build products that really have impact - that shape the future - then you must learn how to build the right foundations for success.
In the following article, I will explain that there are two levers to building the right foundations for product success. Furthermore, that it is essential you use at least one of these levers in order to give yourself any chance of product success.
I will conclude that, when you are able to leverage both of these levers - both solving a very acute problem & removing all friction with our solution - your product can become unstoppable.
Lever 1/2: Solving An Acute Problem
Everything is easier when your product solves an acute problem.
Imagine you are an entrepreneur struggling to generate enough sales to keep your business afloat. It’s a challenge you face every single day. It keeps you up at night.
When a product comes along that promises to help you generate more sales, what do you do?
You are far more likely to engage with that product (visit their website, for example). You are far more likely to test out that product (download & open their app, for example). You are far more likely to get a lot of value from that product, if it delivers on its promise (helping you increase sales, for example). You are far more likely to pay for it. Far more likely to tell your friends about it.
That’s because, when a product solves an acute problem, the target customer is far more motivated to solve it. The product represents a pain-killer for them, not just a vitamin - a nice-to-have.
A great example of a seemingly ordinary product that has succeeded by solving an acute problem would be TestGorilla, one of 2022’s fastest growing startups:
TestGorilla helps you set up “screening tests [to] identify the best candidates and make your hiring decisions faster, easier, and bias-free.”
The product solves a well-known problem: How to hire the right people.
It doesn’t even solve it in a particularly unique way. There are many products that offer some sort of assessment process (such as a screening test) out there.
However, because hiring is such an acute problem for many teams, their target users are just a lot more motivated to test out the product.
Despite a lack of clear differentiation, therefore, their target users are far more likely to check out the website, set up their first test & await the results (which takes a few days to see the value of). This means TestGorilla can focus on building a world-class solution (i.e. great screening tests) from Day 1. In contrast, most product teams must focus on building awareness & acquisition in order to get enough target customers through the funnel to test out the solution.
Turning Theory Into Practice:
Whether building a new product, or auditing an existing product that is struggling to grow, how might you find a more acute problem to solve?
Could you zoom in on a more specific niche with a more acute problem, for example?
Could you pivot to an entirely different problem space?
We suggest brainstorming 10-20 different problem statements to start, identifying who, broadly, suffers from the problem, then drilling in to define a VERY specific niche who that problem is very acute for
Lever 2/2: Build A Frictionless Solution
If you’re unable to pivot to an acute problem to solve, or you simply see a great opportunity in a less acute problem space, how you build your solution is essential.
As I’ve demonstrated above, when you are solving an acute problem, your target customer is super motivated to engage with your product. When you are not solving an acute problem, they just don’t care that much about your product! As a result, they are less motivated to put in the time & effort to check out your product, test it out, stick with it, pay for it, etc.
When it comes to building a solution for a non-acute problem, you must therefore be laser-focused on removing friction.
When it comes to activating your target customer, for example, your onboarding must be unbelievably simple. It must be quick. It must not require much effort. It mustn’t make them think too much. If it does, they will simply drop off & stop using the product.
A good example of this principle in practice is a product called Bento.
Bento is “your personal page to show everything you are, create and sell.” Essentially, it’s an alternative to something like LinkedIn or a CV to show a more visual, holistic overview of your professional experience.
Does it solve an acute problem? No. Because you can quite easily add some visuals and links to your CV or LinkedIn profile. If you’re struggling to get a new job, the problem of how you make yourself stands out becomes a bit more acute, but, again, LinkedIn or a CV can achieve this.
Where Bento really stands out? In how unbelievably quick & easy it is to set up your personal page.
Onboarding takes seconds, requiring you to simply copy & paste links to your Github, LinkedIn, blog, Instagram, etc. Those links then auto-populate your personal page. To then share your personal page, you simply click a big “Copy my link” button at the bottom & voilá, you have a beautiful, visual personal page to share with potential clients or hiring teams.
Turning Theory Into Practice:
Building a frictionless product is far easier said than done. Try to ask yourself:
Follow an existing convention (such as the idea of a personal page, which LinkedIn & a traditional CV follow), but make it as simple & easy as possible, like Bento?
Alternatively, how might you question convention to completely rethink the solution, like our next case study, Loom?
Lever 1 + Lever 2 = Unstoppable Product
When your product solves an acute problem, everything else becomes easier, from acquiring users to charging money for the product.
When your solution is as frictionless as possible, you keep your user motivated enough to get to the core value of the product - and, hopefully, return to use it in the future.
Ideally, your product does both.
By solving an acute problem with a frictionless solution, you will see unstoppable growth.
Loom is a great example of this. Loom addressed the acute problem of teams struggling with poor communication, which decreased productivity. They then came up with a very innovative, frictionless solution: Rather than teams communicating by text (e.g. email or Slack), why not get them to share pre-recorded videos with each other instead? Record a video with the click of a button, then share the link within seconds. As simple as that.
Through this approach, Loom was able to grow to 14m users, 200,000 businesses & a $1B valuation within just 3 years!
If you can use both of these levers, you’ll unlock similar success for your own products and, by doing, so build products that shape the future.