Is there a genuine need for your idea? Can you know the answer to this question before you write the first line of code, and how important is it to know? Yes and very says our guest for this episode of CTO Studio.
Vidya Dinamani is the co-founder and principal of Product Rebels, a company that works with product leaders, founders and product teams at any level. She is also an advisor and partner with Lash, a start-up I have also joined as a partner and advisor.
Today she explains why she joined that company, and how you can apply those same criteria to your product or service and how to know for certain if there is a genuine need for your idea. Join us as we dig into all of those topics and more on today’s edition of CTO Studio.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- What simple question should you ask when making a decision?
- How do you know you’re on the right track?
- Why aren’t surveys a reliable way of talking to your customers?
- How do you get insights for an “ah ha” moment?
- Who are we all actually building for?
- And so much more!
When she joined Lash, Vidya explains she looked for several things when evaluating the company. These are the same criteria she uses when evaluating every company she joins. She looks for a product that fills a big need, it’s something that can be done and has the right people gathered to make it happen, and the product is at the stage where it is early enough, interesting enough and big enough that it could make a lot of money one day. Lash’s product checked all those boxes so she joined.
I also have criteria and questions I also look to answer before I join a start-up. They are as follows:
1. Do they have the ability to describe the problem and wireframes for the solution?
2. Do they have an unfair advantage in the marketplace?
3. Are they willing to put any of their own money into this idea?
Vidya agrees those are all great questions to ask, and she would add the question of whether this company is addressing the customer need. You can have a great people addressing a problem, but is there really a true need for the product out there in the marketplace? Is it really solving a need?
When we met with Lash, the CEO clearly described what the need was because she had experienced it herself, and she could prove the need was there and the need could be replicated with the great group of people she had assembled.
I asked Vidya to tell us some pragmatic ways we can find out if there is a genuine need for what we want to create. Vidya says the only way that has really worked for them is to observe it. For example, when she was at Intuit people would say they want a budget. But no one would buy budgeting software because fundamentally it’s not really a need they had, it was a need they think they should have.
So the only way you can know for sure if there is a true need for something is to observe. What do your customers actually do and how do they work the solution? Answering those questions is how you understand if a true need exists. You can’t go by just what people say.
Does that mean going into a company and shadowing people – is that the type of observation she is referring to?
Absolutely says Vidya. She says she has literally followed people home or to the office and watched and observed their behavior (she promises it is not creepy!). But if you can’t do it then find someone who does something similar because you have to observe your customers. Doing so gives you insights, which lead to breakthroughs and the ideas for amazing products.
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This is true of the start-up we joined. Nicole the founder started this company because she saw a need. She was trying to sell items on Facebook Live and it was difficult to accurately track and reconcile transactions through this medium. So she decided to build a platform that allows people to sell things through live video with a one-click purchase.
One of the things she found was that you could make a lot of sales very fast. Nicole saw a problem in that those orders couldn’t be fulfilled, that is where the platform comes in. The actual need is the expense these vendors go through to build an audience and to market. But if you can get to a platform where people can put up goods, and other people are there looking for artisanal merchandise all the time then you have a quick way of selling it – that’s the need. You are solving both sides of the problem through a platform, and you are solving logistics along the way.
Next on this episode of CTO Studio we discussed a possible scenario: imagine I have a start-up and we have built our MVP. The product works and technically it is doing everything the founders want it to do, but the go-to market strategy is still being fleshed out. Vidya is invited to join at this point in the development of the product, are there telltale things she can read in the room that tell if the company is on the wrong track and this won’t go anywhere versus they need a little bit of a sales and marketing push to succeed?
In circumstances like these there are two questions everyone can ask: get everyone to write down what they think is the problem they are solving, then have them read it out loud. That will tell you if you all are on the same page. If you are not on the same page, and invariably most teams she comes into think they are solving different needs, this is a simple way to find out.
The second thing you can do is find out exactly who is your customer. Often companies paint broad brush strokes of who their ideal customer is, they use demographics like age ranges, etc. Doing so means the company doesn’t understand exactly who they are creating for, and if they don’t have know that then they won’t get traction no matter how much money they put into it.
You have to know how to spend your marketing dollars you are throwing away your money.
If you don’t know who your exact customer is then you have to get back to basics: get your value proposition right, make sure you know exactly what you are doing and then talk to customers and observe them.
Is it possible to do this before you have written any code? Absolutely according to Vidya. In fact, she would require it but she admits she is a product person! She thinks anyone in technology, especially CTOs, should ask how do you know what you are solving is the right thing to solve? It’s a question you have every right to have evidence of based on real customer research and feedback. Get some evidence to say we are on to something and this is how we know.
Also on today’s show we discuss when a start-up should add a product manager, and the advice she has for CTOs who want to spruce up their product management skills. You’ll hear us dive deep into those subjects and much more on this edition of CTO Studio!