Return to News

The Observatory

Five steps in developing a product that sells

August 17, 2020

Note – It has less to do with building than you think.

We love helping people build their products. Whether they are a large company reinventing or modernizing their product, or a startup building their dream, we love the process and seeing the growth stages of product development.

Our team has vast experience in product development. We’ve both seen and made our share of mistakes. It’s not enough to have an idea and go straight to development. Great products need to fill a need and meet the right time and market. Besides, you are never really done building your project.  

Here are the top five things you need to focus on to build a product that sells. 

1. Test your assumptions early and often.

We use the Lean Canvas method to document our assumptions and then test those assumptions. The Lean Canvas quickly works through a simple business plan that is good for evolution. After completing your first satisfactory draft, find at least 10 people who meet your target demographic, validate your assumptions and validate your approach would be interesting for them.  

It’s likely this will drive some significant changes in the model. Retool, make adjustments, and then talk to 10 more people after making these adjustments. When you start hearing the same signals repeated in your conversations, you know you’re onto something.

2. Begin with an audience engagement mentality

To build an audience, you need to build fans. Fans of the project will help you promote and engage other fans in your product. This is something you need to develop early on in your product strategy.  

If people love the project:

  • How will they let others know? 
  • How can you incentivize them to let others know?

If people don’t like the product or features of the product:

  • How will they let you know?
  • How will you incentivize them to let you know?

3. Measure your feature usage. Keep the features focused and simple; kill things people don’t love.

The best products have a very clear value proposition, are intuitive to learn and easy to use. Trying to be all things for all people, only succeeds in making you irrelevant. Limit yourself to two or three main functions and focus all of your time and attention on making those functions easier and more rewarding to the user. If you can’t clearly define two main functions, go back to the Lean Canvas and try again.

Measure the onboarding traction using something like Google Firebase. Track users from Step A to Step N. Create a simple dashboard and review it often. When you release new features, ensure that there is some way to measure the use or associated engagement.

Features are hard to maintain. If it’s not successful don’t be afraid to kill unused features and redirect your attention to the features  people use.

For the features people love, remember love is fleeting. Make sure you are improving and enhancing those features to keep them useful, simple and rewarding.

4. Automate the distribution, onboarding and support mechanism.

Continuous Integration (CI) is another important practice when building a product that sells.  For CI a few things we should note are it: 

  • Reduces human error and allows for quick deploy and rollbacks when they fail.
  • Allows for developers and testers to quickly see changes once the code is complete, increasing velocity.
  • Allows for constant automated testing to reduce regressions and minimize downtime.

Some of our favorite products and tools we use are: 

  • CircleCI. CircleCI is our platform of choice now for pipelines. 
    • It was chosen primarily for reliability and extensibility for our needs.
    • We were using Bitrise for Android and Native Apps. However, we are moving away from this now that we make use of CircleCI.
    • We are also moving away from Bitbucket pipelines due to reliability and to improve developer/DevOps experience.
  • Docker is our platform of choice for containerized infrastructure as it allows developers to develop/test in the same environment that will run the code in production.
  • We use a process called blue-green deployments to ensure that we can easily revert should a bad deploy make its way to production. 
    • This process allows traffic to slowly shift to the new deployment and continue doing so only if no new errors are found. If an error is found, it reverts all traffic to the old version.

If you have to show someone how to use your product in person, it will never scale. When you are building your product, give it to a handful of people to test and instruct them on the actions you would like to complete without describing the steps. If all succeeds without failure, great. If they don’t, you need to improve your onboarding mechanism. We like Pendo for easy product onboarding because it allows you to run experiments. 

Despite popular opinions, developers don’t always write perfect code. No amount of planning will prevent trouble in the field. When a customer has an issue, developers will create a low touch mechanism for collecting feedback, logs and a mechanism for prioritizing and addressing said issue.  Personal interaction for each bug or failure isn’t scalable. Reserve your help desk for the biggest issues and try to automate the bug collection process and response.

5. Continuously run small experiments.

When you do get some traction, resist the urge to bolt on big features to collect an adjacent audience. Make small improvements to ensure your product is the best at what it does. Run small A B tests on UI/UX improvements, measure the engagement, and implement the winner. Always challenge the winner with additional modifications that can potentially improve the experience. 

  • Can an action be completed by a user faster?
  • Can it be completed in fewer steps?
  • Can the experience produce a greater sense of accomplishment for the user?

A successful product strategy is more like farming. It requires constant attention, innovation and the ability to overcome obstacles. Also remember a successful product doesn’t need constant attention of the user, it simply has to provide value through a rewarding experience.

Our team of strategists can help you develop a successful product that sells today! You can get in touch through our website or email us directly at!

Contact Us

Carimus Icon