How to Make Something People Want

How to Make Something People Want

How do you make something people want?

There is not a simpler thing you can do to make your time building a startup more likely to result in a successful outcome for you, your team and your investors than making sure that what you are making is something people want. This is one of those startup building catchphrases that gets plastered on coffee cups, t-shirts and posters in all caps… MAKE SOMETHING PEOPLE WANT.

It is four words. It is the motto of YCombinator. It feels simple and therefore stupid. And everyone that reads it thinks with passing disinterest in their head, “Yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing here at Company X.” Everyone believes they’re making something people want. However… a year later when 9 out of 10 of these same startups fail – what’s the reason for that failure? Not lack of funding. Not bad hires. Not bad market timing. It is almost always, at its core… no market need for the product that was made. No one wants it. So… how were they wrong? And how are you going to be more likely to be right?

The rules of making something people want.

  1. You can not lie about what people want. They do not want your product. They want something your product does.
  2. To make something people want, you must talk to those people.
  3. You need to be able to make what people want with the time and money you have (aka MVP).
  4. The more complicated the want, the more risk you should prepare for.
  5. You must be honest about what all is competing with what you make.
  6. You need to prepare for the gravity of the status quo.
  7. You and your customers need to have an accord on value.

People want something your product does.

You need to be able to differentiate between your product, and what your product does for the user. Value proposition statements can help with this, as well as Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. An example:

Your product: We’re building a tool to help restaurants with their hiring process by adding video interviews.

This is fine, but it's likely the restaurant isn’t coming to you saying ‘we need video interviews’. You need to be able to communicate that what your product does, someone really wants.

Your value prop: We make hiring for restaurants take ½ as much time using fast, simple video interviews.

Now you’re focusing on a problem and a solution. Your product solves for a pain point, and you can communicate as such.

To make something people want, you must talk to those people.

In order to understand that your product solves a problem, you need to hear that problem stated clearly from your customer. You can’t assume they have it, and you can’t convince them that they have it. You need to conduct non-leading interviews where you ask them to:

  • Describe how current processes work surrounding your product
  • Ask for quality and value judgements about what goes well and what doesn’t
  • Never ask specifically ‘do you need something that does X’

People lie in interviews. They don’t mean to, but we have hopeful minds. When someone says ‘Would you want a product that does video interviews and makes hiring faster,’ the answer is a snap yes. But zoom out a year later when it’s on the market? They’ll never buy. Interviews should focus on the existing process, user journeys as to how people solve those problems now, and your own interest and ability to dig into extreme detail surrounding your product’s problem space.

Take the restaurant example above – what might you want to know?

  • Walk me through the hiring process currently
  • What about the application process
  • Where do applicants come from
  • How many applicants do you receive
  • Who does interviews and where
  • How is this organized
  • How much time is spent on this
  • … and on

Conduct these interviews well and you may discover that a video interview product for restaurants might be a harder tool to onboard users for when 90% of restaurants still use paper and manilla folders for organizing their applications.

You’ve only got so much time and money.

At the financial level, you should be assessing whether you have the funds and time to bring a product to market that solves the key pain point you’re selling to your customers. This means you must refrain from some of the Startup Magical Thinking that sometimes goes over so well in your angel pitches and fundraising decks.

While an investor might salivate that you’re prepared to build:

  • A digital video interviews tool for restaurants FIRST
  • But scaling in to HR and all industries for a total addressable market of $67B
  • With AI generated interview evaluations
  • And business-to-candidate profile matching marketplace
  • That handles everything from payroll to time-clock management and evaluations
  • Connected in to cash registers and on-site sensors

You need to be honest that the scope of this ambition, while great for your vision, isn’t aligned with being in the market in the next four months with a $2M seed raise. You have to train yourself to keep the excitement of that vision, but be laser-focused on the product you can afford to build – AKA the oft-mentioned MVP.

The more complicated the want, the more risk you should prepare for.

Getting into more detail, one of the more complex things to consider in making something people want is the complexity of the user problem and subsequent solution. Complexity is an inherent challenge in making something new, but some industries, products and problem types are just more complex than others. An example:

Simple problems

  • Subscription ecommerce
  • Gated communities/content
  • Single-use tools

Complex problems

  • Double-sided marketplaces
  • Platform products (suites of tools)
  • Products that integrate into complex real-world workflows (many, but not all)

These obviously aren’t full lists, but just buckets of the difference between products where the nuance of finding, selling and implementing the right solution can either be fairly simple, or painfully complex. That complexity is an inherent risk in your early-stage product, and therefore we flag that you need to keep it in mind and allot for it as a part of your process. Some good things to watch out for in product making that indicate you have a complex product:

  • Multiple user types
  • Fully disparate product functions and navigation (switching from X to X)
  • Multiple payment patterns (subscription AND a la’ carte, for example)
  • Needing to be on web, iOS and Android to start
  • Needing network effects or only succeeding at scale
  • Complex features that are buried within other features

You must be honest about your competition.

Another key factor in making something people want is flipping the idea of your competitive moat over and honestly assessing your competition. While in the investment process you espouse, “Here’s why there’s nothing like us on the market today,” in the product building process, your interviews should shine a light on your real competition, which is:

Every way that someone currently handles the problem your product solves, is your competition.

Using the restaurant hiring process, your competition is the manilla folder, the stack of applications on the desk in the back, the ingrained ‘way we’ve done it for years’ that no one likes but kinda works. It’s not just the other digital tools out there. It’s everything.

Your product needs to be appealing enough to change behavior, and the current behavior is your competition. This means understanding it as much as you understand anything.

On a macro level, large companies get this well. Ask a book publisher what their competition is, and their dropping revenues will tell you it’s not just the other book publishers, it’s:

  • Netflix/HBO Max
  • Video games
  • Superhero movies
  • Youtube
  • …and on

You need to prepare for the gravity of the status quo.

Leaning in a little bit further to the competitive aspect of ‘changing someone from their current process to your solution’, you should prepare for this to be harder than you might imagine. You can make it easier by faithfully executing on a clear problem, communicating it well and pricing and marketing appropriately, but the status quo almost has a gravity to it that pulls someone away from trying new things.

The more hip, technically adept and on-the-cutting-edge among target markets may be easy to enroll in trying a new product, but many others are slow. Painfully slow. Change is hard to implement across an organization. Small or large. Getting them to try a new product can be difficult, especially if your product may solve a problem for them, but it’s not their biggest problem.

Using the restaurant example, you may approach them with your video interview product, and they agree it solves a problem, but they don’t sign up or use the product? Why? Often because they have more pressing problems, so in this case, the status quo is fine for them.

They may be facing:

  • Turnover of employees
  • Employees not showing up for shifts
  • Increasing prices from suppliers
  • Low sales on weekday lunch hours
  • Theft
  • Poor inventory management and spoilage

Suddenly it becomes easier to see that video interviews might help them, but the effort of implementing a change, if high, can make it hard for them to focus on that problem.

To solve for this:

  1. During your interview process, find as many pain points as you can, and then stack rank them with your interviewees – try to find where your product lies.
  2. Reduce friction in trying your product as much as possible. Free trials. Data migration. Intensive customer support and hand holding. Do anything reasonable to help them change.
  3. Incentive. Financially or otherwise, incentivize them to make the change.
  4. Guarantees of satisfaction.

You and your customers need to have an accord on value.

Finally, to make a product that someone wants you need to have an agreement that what you’re planning on charging is appropriate to what they value as the problem. We’ve seen pricing misalignment kill products as soon as they think their wings are about to spread.

Here’s our video interview product for restaurants. You can manage 25 candidates for $99/month or 100 candidates for $250/month.

If you interviewed well, you might have discovered that your average restaurant currently pays $0 for managing their hiring process. Has margins that are painfully tight. And pays no more than $20/month for any supplemental product they use for time-keeping or web hosting, etc.

Is that price going to sell? If the company and its customers don’t have an accord on value, you can’t make something people want. You can make something that does something people want, but that doesn’t mean they’ll buy it.

To find your pricing, you should:

  • Determine current expenditures for your users on similar or adjacent products
  • Find a formula for the cost-benefit that shows what your product saves the user, and therefore what it’s worth (this may not always work)
  • Experiment with pricing models (Freemium, Subscription, etc.)
  • Validate by selling the product before it is built

The truth about making something people want.

Making something people want may seem simple, but the truth is that it can be company-killing in its complexity. To get there, we’ve outlined a stack of items that we recommend you keep top-of-mind as you look to bring a new product to the market. Of course there are many more, and many additional frameworks you can use to help keep yourself from falling in the trap of making something that no one wants, or only you want.

At the heart of our recommendations is to keep interacting with your user, keep asking them more and learning more, being ready to change and having structures for product building and design that keep you and your team focused on only the most important and valuable aspects of your product, for your revenue and your users. If you’d like to see some of these tools in place or discuss how they can be leveraged to help you bring your product to the market, contact Studio now.

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