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How to Build a Great Product

Amazon did not kill the retail industry. Bad customer service did.

Netflix did not kill Blockbuster. Ridiculous late fees did.

Uber did not kill the taxi business. Limited number of taxis and fare control did.

Apple did not kill the music industry. Forcing people to buy full-length albums did.

Airbnb did not kill the hotel industry. Limited availability and pricing options did.

You may build an exceptional piece of technology but if users don’t love it you will eventually fail.

Technology by itself is only half the equation. Customer engagement is the missing half, critical throughout the lifecycle of any company, essential in the early stages of building a product. In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos brought an empty chair to executive meetings and told his team the empty seat represented a customer, who is and will always be, "the most important person in the room.” Even now, Bezos makes it a priority to attend a two-day call center training program every year.

You can’t build a great product without talking directly to users.

Founders often want to skip steps in order to scale fast. “I just need get to X amount of users by leveraging press, hosting a big launch party and engaging in social media.” We realize it may seem more efficient to broadcast your existence rather than recruiting users one at a time. Creating initial buzz is a lazy way to onboard users and is not sustainable in the long term.

Get to know your users as well as you can, as early as you can. Who are they? What do they really need? What makes them tick? How can your product make their life easier? The answers to these questions should dictate every decision you make from now on.

The smartest way to scale is organically.

You can use growth hacks, gain users, popularity on social media, even land a few articles on major media publications – best case scenario your company gets big fast. Then what? Eventually you will have to grow by people actually wanting to use your product. If you haven’t paid attention to their needs and you don’t have a great product, you will fail.

Another reason you want to grow organically and connect with users is when things inevitably go wrong, they are more willing to give you a pass. Startups are fragile, at some point things will get heated. The system will crash, the website will go down, vocal critics go viral, whatever the case, this is the time when you are either going to wish you had loyal users.

“Make customers unhappy in the physical world and they’ll each tell six friends. Make customers unhappy on the Internet, they’ll each tell 6,000 people." -Jeff Bezos

Keep it simple and adapt as you go.

Your product doesn’t have to be tested and perfected by the time you launch. On the contrary, you want early adapters to use and guide you on practical improvements. Talk to them, watch them use your product, sit through sessions, figure out how to improve and make your product better gradually. Don’t try to plan too far out. Keep it simple. Develop a sequence of priority actions and adapt as you go. Make small improvements every week and results will compound. Above all, do not put anyone between you and your users for as long as you can.

Often the underlying problem of stale startups is tied to the product not meeting customer needs. If this is your company, stop reading blogs on what to do and go talk to your customers!

"If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late." - Reid Hoffman

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