Before you start marketing, before you start hiring new team members, before you can expand, and certainly before you turn a profit, there's one thing that matters more than anything else in a company: the strength of your product. Is it unique? Is it worth what you're asking for? Are people happy when they get it and start using it? If not, your company is dead in the water.

Fortunately, it's never as simple as "bad product" leading to "failed company." In fact, most products start out as questionable in quality. The differentiators--the successful ones--are the ones who take those flawed ideas, work hard to iron out the kinks, and eventually go to market with a landmark offer.

So how can you take an idea for a product and make it better?

Certain niches demand specific strategies, like how SaaS companies almost always offer a subscription model, but these general tactics will work for almost any product at any stage of development:

1. Assume your product is terrible

This is the most important step, but it's also the hardest one to take. When you're building a company, or seeing your idea come to life, your product is your baby. You thought of it, nurtured it to life, and now it stands as a representation of your entrepreneurial abilities. Naturally, you think it's wonderful--or else you wouldn't have designed it--but because you assume that it's already good, you become blind to its potential flaws.

If you want to make it better, you have to reverse this bias. Force yourself to start thinking that your product is awful. Put yourself in the shoes of a customer who is bitter, angry, and unhappy with your product. What's terrible about it? What do you hate? What's obnoxious about it? What's impractical about it? What's ugly, or worthless, or missing from it? These questions might be a blow to your ego, but you'll start uncovering threads that lead you to important conclusions about the specific product traits that need to be improved.

2. Figure out its value--objectively

Once you've taken care of the surface-level flaws, you can start digging deeper into specific areas of development. First, let's take a look at one of the most important determining factors for a consumer purchase--the product's value. Is it worth what you're selling it for? Your gut reaction is probably yes, but this doesn't necessarily reflect the value that real consumers place on your product. If you offer something that helps people make more money, try to quantify how much they can save and figure out your objective, average ROI. If it makes people more efficient, quantify how much time they save. Figure out tangential value factors like how long the product lasts, or how "necessary" it is for modern life. Eventually, you should have a concrete logical position--either your product is worth what you're selling it for or it isn't. If it isn't, you need to cut the price or make it more effective.

3. See what the competition is cooking up

There's no shame in seeing what your competitors' products are like--and there's certainly no harm in it. Do a competitive analysis to find what competitors are offering similar products, buy some samples, and test them out. How do they perform better than yours? How can you compensate for this weakness? The key here is to find the strengths and weaknesses your competitors' products have, and use those insights to inform new additions or modifications of your current models. You don't have to be better in every way--just in some way that matters to your customers.

4. Ask your team members for insights

You aren't the only person working on this product, and chances are, you're so close to it, you'll struggle to come up with new ideas for it. Take a step back and ask some of your team members what they think--what weaknesses they see, how they might redesign it given the chance, and how they imagine consumers using it in their daily lives. You'll be surprised to learn what some of them have to say.

5. Experiment with different demographics

You've already made the assumption that one demographic is right for your product--possibly based on research, and possibly based on anecdotal evidence. There are two potential paths for improvement here. First, see if you can make your product even more specific to your target demographics (i.e., are you speaking directly to them? Can your brand be adjusted?). Second, see if there are any other demographics who  might respond well to a variant of your product. It's a way to hedge your bets and better understand your target audiences at the same time.

6. Test it

Finally, get your products in some users' hands and test the heck out of it. There's no substitute for raw data, and admittedly, many of the strategies outlined here are based on brainstorming and isolated idea generation. The only way to be sure that your product is doing its job of being both effective and valuable is to get it in play and gauge your users' reactions. For this, you can use reviews, surveys, or interviews; as long as you're getting real, honest information from your target demographics, you'll have all the ammunition you need to make your product better.

These rules and strategies are especially valuable for products that are still in development, but they aren't just for startups or for companies struggling to get by--they're for any company that wants to do more for its customers. When your product is more unique, more valuable, and more satisfying than the products of your competitors, everything else will start to fall neatly into place.

Published on: Mar 3, 2016