5 lessons on product
management for startups
Co-founder and CEO, SenSat
For startups, there is a fine balance to finding the product-market fit and fulfilling your vision and hypothesis of how you plan to change the world. The latter is important, but your product has to create value for early users.
Qualifying and finding that early value is challenging, especially whilst you have limited resources and access to clients. Over the past few years, SenSat has learnt many lessons on the ground that we wanted to share, in the hope it may help you find market fit that little bit easier.
Here are 5 lessons on finding that initial market fit:
Lesson 1: Get the product management function right early on (even if it means wearing multiple hats)
A product manager’s primary objective is to solve customer problems, evaluate product opportunities and define what is built.
They interact with a wide array of stakeholders, internally and externally. It's important to build a team around the product manager, that contributes significantly to the process in order to make them effective.
Different people serve different functions within the team:
UX designers - create the customer interface for the product
Engineers - build the product that has been defined
Project manager - oversees the work of engineers in the execution phase
Product marketing - helps to formulate the messaging and tell the world about the product
You should also utilise the best brains in wider departments. Those with smart, interesting ideas should be given license to contribute to and advocate for product management.
Lesson 2: Make user experience a priority
Good UX is a vital component of great products. The product manager and UX designer have to work hand-in-hand, with four essential steps to making it a success:
An interaction designer works to understand the user’s requirements and way of thinking. The output is a wireframe (we've traditionally used Balsamiq)
A visual designer contributes to the look and feel of the product. Visual designers have the power to evoke emotions from customers and are essential (we've traditionally used Sketch)
Rapid prototypers quickly create prototypes of the product
Usability testers who test the prototype with customers
This is a solid process capable of generating input for another iteration, allowing feedback to be quickly incorporated into the product.
Lesson 3: User input is gospel - but take it with a shed load of salt
Users are notoriously poor at expressing precisely what they want from a product, and this is even harder if your product hypothesis provides a significant change to the way they traditionally work. As such, don’t let their input directly steer the course of the product. Instead, stay focused on identifying customer problems and think directly about how to solve them.
We successfully implemented an early adopter partner programme where we identify 10 users from our target market who suffer the same problem. We then worked with them as partners to develop and test a product to address the issue. This helps to develop a product that works for the entire target market, not specialised or bespoke products for single users.
If done correctly, it is a win-win situation. Participants gain early/free access to a product that solves a painful problem for them, and we get invaluable user input with references to optimise when approaching the rest of the market.
Lesson 4: Assessing opportunities
Opportunities are everywhere - but assessing which are the best ones to go after is a master skill.
We’ve found that a business case for a product is most effective when it is not deeply technical, and instead, can be understood by anyone in the business.
Amongst other things, we ask ourselves:
What problem will this solve?
Who are we solving a problem for and how big is that market?
What alternatives do competitors provide and why are we the ones who can succeed in this?
What factors are critical to success (e.g partnerships with distributors)?
What metrics will we use to measure our success?
Why is this the right time to enter the market and what is our go-to-market strategy (i.e how will we sell the product?)
Importantly, these questions are geared towards understanding the opportunity - not presupposing a solution.
Lesson 5: Define your product principles to effectively prioritise
Effective product management means constantly prioritising and making decisions. However, different stakeholders may feel strongly about different aspects.
To help resolve tradeoffs, it is important to define a set of product principles that act as a reference guide for what to do.
These are a set of core beliefs that define what is actually important to the strategy of the product line. It’s also likely to embody your vision and mission statement.
To paint a picture, here are a few of our Product principles:
We strive to deliver an accurate and reliable digital copy of the world as is technically possible
Mapp® updates and changes at the same pace as the real world. The environment is dynamic and feels real-time. The experience should be like stepping through a portal into a mirror world
The interactions you make in the real world should be enhanced through Mapp®. Mapp® gives users digital superpowers
We think hard about design, always making things feel natural and intuitive to use
At SenSat we are currently hiring for all of the above-mentioned roles. When you join, it’s not just another job. You’ll have the chance to build something that really matters, with a team that will become like family to you. We’ll give you the freedom and tools to bring your absolute best, and the opportunities will be limitless.
To check out the open opportunities, please visit:
Co-founder and CEO, SenSat