By Cody Candee, founder and CEO of Bounce: powering a network of 1,000-plus SMB store locations for luggage storage and package acceptance.
As the founder and CEO of Bounce, I know it's been a wild year for driving a startup forward in the travel space during the pandemic. Last spring, we lost 99 percent of our revenue overnight. While that unexpected hit was rough, the upside was that we were able to focus on the longer-term positioning of our business.
We took a look at all the things we were considering taking on in the future and said, "What can we do now?" Long story short, we ended up launching a new product amid the chaos and were quite surprised by how quickly we were able to pull it off.
From writing our first line of code to general availability, it took under four weeks. Here's what allowed us to move so quickly.
Deeply understand the pain point you're solving.
If you can become a world-class expert on the problem you're solving, you'll be able to move quicker and with more precision. It's actually not that hard to become an expert on a narrow topic. You can study all the companies that try to solve this problem, read all the major media pieces that have been published around it, and even talk to a handful of customers or existing experts.
We followed this approach, and it led to us knowing exactly what to build. We were lucky enough to already have customers asking us for this service, and we conducted a handful of customer interviews to understand exactly what they needed.
When it came to drafting out the first version, we were able to make decisions quickly because they were based on understanding rather than guessing.
Find and address your most likely failure point.
When developing a new product, make a list of all the reasons it might not work. The question "If this were to fail, why would it fail?" will serve you well.
Once you've created the list, rank the reasons based on which are most likely. Take that top reason and start addressing it. Is there an experiment you can do to validate or invalidate that reason? You'll probably learn a lot from this.
Scope down the initial product as much as possible.
Whatever you launch, even after doing all this pre-work, you're still not going to get it 100 percent right on your first try. How your customers use your product, or certain hesitations they have, will only really come to light once they're actively using the product.
This means there's a huge risk that you might spend too much time building the wrong (or even just slightly wrong) product. The way to avoid this, in addition to the steps above, is to scope down what you're building to something as bare bones as you can get.
It will likely be uncomfortable to not have all the features you know customers will want. Basically, can you ship just the core "happy path" or expected user flow? Embrace the discomfort and prioritize getting this product into users' hands now rather than getting a perfected version to customers later.
Reid Hoffman has a quote I love: "If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late."
Know your target customer.
The last step to getting your product out into customers' hands quickly is to really narrow down who you're going to target first.
The book Crossing the Chasm explains this best: You want to start with your market so narrow that you practically know the customers by name. This allows you to perfect the messaging, product, and distribution so that you can get early adopters using your product right from the start.
Getting a simple product to market as fast as possible allows you to build the grand product version much more quickly because you can learn from customers actively using your product much earlier and with more frequency.