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The Problem with Skipping Pre-PZero Product Development

Updated: Mar 8

The first times I went through early stage founder development programs we were urged to derive and polish our 2 minute pitches, fill out Lean Canvases, and create a spreadsheet with our 5-year financial growth projections. Get ready to SCALE! Because that’s what funders want to see: an exit event plan, how they’re going to see their returns.

To someone who dreams up an idea to monetize, the perspective is all about how to get loans or gifts to get off the ground, or to stay afloat when the whole endeavor begins to sag.

These hapless people who just want to run their own lives, maybe take on the lifestyle of an admired family member or neighbor or celebrity find themselves staring at this map of HOW IT HAPPENS.

Problem-Solution > Product-Market Fit > Scale! From Day 1 you’re selling something. Something that isn’t solidly built yet.

Founders would like the patronage of a benevolent “angel”. A safety net at a comfortable level above failure and its rippling destabilization, and usually personally and socially humiliating effects. Support that takes their business straight to liftoff and cruising altitude.

But let’s take a closer look. First, let’s strip away that glittery ‘up and to the right’ visage. What remains is a supposed linear path to success. Not “Continuous Innovation”, which is iterative and not about validation.


Part 1: DESIGN

“Communicate your idea clearly and concisely”

• Communicate what? To whom? For what purpose?

• Who are you designing for? What are the use cases? Which is the primary use case?

• How do you know that what is being communicated adds value to…anybody?

So – where’s the design in this stage?


“Sell before you build. Establish repeatable sales.”

• Wait. How can you sell what you haven’t investigated or built prototypes of? Showing an animation of a product demo?

• How do you know what your value proposition is, other than your gut instinct? How do you know why it’s a good value proposition in this time and place?

• Potential customers usually want to see your thing, maybe get a chance to play around with it to get a sense of its usefulness, its value, to them.

• Do you know what makes your team uniquely able to execute on the value proposition, the one that you have data that shows the problem you’ve identified and how your thing positively addresses that problem?


Part 3: GROWTH

“Build MVP. Roll out in stages.”

• How do you know that you’ve identified an essential problem for a group of potential users/customers AND the best way(s) to address that problem? Do you know what else could address that problem that competitors could land on better than you can?

• Do you know how your thing might fit into the lives of potential users/customers, making it an imperative element of their lives?

• How do you know what your thing’s core features are? Do you know how these features should be optimally designed? What is the order of priorities to your potential users/customers if your thing is rolled out in increments? How can you build the core 80% that will thrill them so that they trust that the other 20% will show up eventually and also be executed correctly?

• If you’re ready to hear that your thing is exactly what your potential users/customers need to address their problem, are you also ready to hear that your thing needs a few tweaks, the design is wrong, or even that the whole concept ineffectively addresses user/customer problems?

• Are you willing to sell people a thing and care not at all whether it’s actually used? Do you care whether your business is sustainable? (Investors might want to know if you care.)

“Deliver value. Make happy customers.”

• By now we can see that the path to delivering value is muddy and fraught with landslides and collisions.

Stage 3: SCALE


“Fire your growth rocket”

• Can you keep building and delivering your thing? Will people keep buying into what your business represents and support your mission?

• Do you expect your thing to sell mostly because of a crack marketing machine (Minimal Viable Marketing) or because your thing is desirable and useful?

• Do you have a solid business model that can flex to market and resource pressures and your ability to cope with those pressures?

• Can you forecast with evidence-based certainty where your business could go, where you might want it to go?

• Where is “scale” in importance to you in relation to other concepts such as maintaining momentum and building a business that can last, or to sell to the highest bidder and move on to another thing?

The most solid starts come from lingering, muddling. As others say, good things come from falling in love with the problem, not your gut instinct-informed idea.

Here's a clean version of a messy iterative process.

Stephen Christopher Brown

De Montfort University | DMU · School of Design

And here's a messy (and accurate) version of a messy iterative process.

Notice that the word "research" is used here. Not "discovery". Not "design thinking'. Not "customer interviews". Or even "design research". We could call it what it is: User Experience Research. More on that in a separate post.

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