I just read a great post on Quora which contends that every startup needs a great product picker – i.e. a person with a Steve Jobs like ability to know what customers want and what is going to make a product successful.

I couldn’t agree more.

Here at Forward we look for great products with a compelling customer value proposition (a compelling value proposition is one where the customer benefits are significantly greater than the cost). If the product is great and the value proposition strong distribution problems can be solved. The reverse is rarely true.

The Quora post has some tactical advice too:

1. Think about what constitutes a great product:

  • A clearly defined user who has a problem you can solve.
  • An innovative, beautifully designed solution that solves that problem.
  • A clear way to monetize.
  • Enough customers who will pay enough to make this a large market.

2. Have a product picker as a co-founder. It could be a technical founder, business founder, a product manager, or a designer, but someone on the founding team better have great product picking skills. All of my companies had product pickers on the founding team, usually the CEO, which is the ideal case.

3. Discuss how product picking decisions are made. Decide who on the team will make the final call on product picking decisions and how everyone else will have input into that decision. You want lots of discussion and debate, but avoid an expectation that you will always reach consensus. Somebody (the product picker) needs to make the final call.

4. Have a methodology for product picking – the power of Steve Blank’s customer development methodology (The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win: Steven Gary Blank: 9780976470700: Amazon.com: Books) and Eric Ries’ Lean Startup (The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses: Eric Ries: 9780307887894: Amazon.com: Books) is precisely that it create a methodology for product picking that anyone can follow instead of simply relying on luck or “visionary” founders. It orients your entire company around product picking instead of beating your head against the wall building or selling something no one wants.

We have our own version of the lean methodology in operation in Forward Labs, our startup Foundry. It’s a critical part of our process for validating businesses. Great product pickers help you get the assumptions right in the first place.