Seedcamp download – some good advice on how to think about product

The following post has been sitting in draft form since Seedcamp week in early September.  I have tried to pick out the key insights from a couple of panels/presentations where people discussed product – they were mostly thinking about consumer internet.

These points are in no particular order.

  1. If you are building something you would use yourself you have a greater chance of success.  This is an oft talked about point, but one which really came home to me when I heard Michael Birch describe how he started Bebo.
  2. Use your own product – obsessively.  Also known as ‘dogfooding’ (i.e. eat you own…..).  That is how you will iron out all the quirks and get to the best user experience.  One CEO described how his team hates it when he goes to conferences because they know that he will use his downtime there to obsessively test their site.  They are big on this idea at Google.
  3. Find the ‘nub’ of your product and only build stuff that fits with that.  You should be able to capture the ‘nub’ in a single sentence.  If you find yourself wanting to build stuff that doesn’t fit with the nub then it is probably time to re-examine it….
  4. Don’t forget the customer – an old chestnut, but easily done
  5. Iterate obsessively – all the successful internet entrepreneurs I know are big on this point.  Continuously try new things on your site and see how they impact your key metrics.  Keep the good, throw out the bad and then try the next thing.  Over and over again.  The best way to do this is to set up your site so you can A-B test – i.e. let 5% of the traffic see the new feature and then move it to the main site only if it works.
  6. Know what you aren’t doing – this is the key to all strategy, and something that people often find hard to grasp, in my experience anyway.
  7. Lot’s of startup success comes from random groups of people unexpectedly getting hold of a product and running with it.  Be live to that possibility and nurture it if it starts to happen.  This happened at Skype where the countries which took off were not the ones they expected.
  8. Understand the metrics for your site, look for the bottlenecks (or key drop off points) and work on them – even if they are the most difficult, or even seemingly outside your control.  If you have a major drop off point on your customer conversion path all the tweaking in the world elsewhere won’t make much difference until you fix the big one.
  9. You need to start with vision and passion but at some point switch to data driven analysis of customer and traffic data.  Judging the point at which to switch is tricky.