How to Create Great Products

Great Products Start With Empathy for the End User

Great products start with empathy for the end user. From the wall of the Stanford

By Ryan Allis, CEO of Connect
Great products start with empathy for the end user. If you can put yourself in the shoes of and feel the pain of your future customers you’ll be able to create a much better solution for that pain. If you yourself are the target market, all the better.

I began working with Aaron Houghton on iContact in October 2002 when he and I both needed a web-based email newsletter tool to serve our agency clients. In May 2012, I began working with Anima Sarah LaVoy on Connect when we both needed a tool to visually map our personal and professional connections. A great product—one that’s going to have great success in the marketplace and make an impact on the world—fulfills one or more of the following 12 key human desires:

1. Human connection 7. Human creative expression
2. Making more money 8. Health and survival
3. Helping others 9. Impressing others
4. Finding a mate/partner 10. Comfort and relaxation
5. Having unique memorable experiences 11. Learning and education
6. Personal and family safety and security 12. Protecting your money

If your product can fulfill just one of these key human desires, you’re off to a great start. If it can fulfill one or more, and do so in a way that is substantially better than other products that attempt to do the same thing, you are well on your way to building a company from startup to $1 million in sales. But first, you have take that product and make it real.

The Eight Characteristics of Great Products

What else do great products do? They bring joy and smiles to the faces of users because they’re easy to use and they solve a real problem for which some people are willing to pay to have solved. Great products tend to be simple on the outside and powerful on the inside. Often the greatest beauty is the simplicity on the other side of sophistication. Great products have these eight characteristics:

  1. Fulfill one or more of the core human desires.
  2. Have at least a 4x markup over production costs—the costs that are necessary to actually make that product and create supplies.
  3. Have a recurring need so that you can create a recurring revenue model.
  4. Easily upsold and cross-sold so that you can sell complementary products or services that tie in with those products.
  5. Built to be strong and withstand wear and tear, whether they are software that’s built on a strong platform or physical, tangible products that are built to withstand many years of use.
  6. Beautifully designed and constructed. Particularly in the Western world or developed countries where we are seeking fulfillment of the higher levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we’re finding that beautiful design is critical to market acceptance. Apple’s products are a good example of this.
  7. Highly effective at achieving their stated purpose.
  8. Have an easy-to-remember name—a great brand is easy to spell and memorable, usually one word with no more than two syllables (like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Facebook, HubSpot, LinkedIn).

Starting a Services Company First While You Ideate on Your Product

If you don’t have an idea for a product right away, you can always start by providing services to others who need what you can offer. In a service company, you can charge based on hours worked or based on the value provided. But always remember, until you’re making money while you’re sleeping, you have a job, not a business. When you’re ready, you can scale up your service company by hiring and training others to provide the service you offer, and and take a cut by matching demand for the service with trained suppliers of that service. But to build a truly scalable company, sooner or later you need to start selling a product, not just providing a service.

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