Approaching Users with Your New Product

28th June, 2016 No Comments Blog

Venture investors and people who invest in venture firms and startups often quote Wayne Gretzky:  “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

This is a useful analogy for the goal of a startup as well as an investor, but it’s imperfect.  It suggests waiting in the “right spot” for the market to catch up to your brilliant idea.  I think it’s more helpful to think about the role of a startup launching a new product as analogous to the hockey player who is passing the puck.  The goal is to put the puck (the product) in the hands of the right player (user) at the right time and in the way that the user can accept it.

In my experience, too many startups work under the premise that, if their product is good enough, people will use it.  The founders have a vision of the future and they want to present that vision to the user in all its glory.  But a new product has to meet the users where they are; it cannot demand much – if anything – from users without providing obvious value.  Put differently, a new product has to meet a need that a user knows she has in a way that she can appreciate its utility almost on its face, ideally even before using it.

Going back to the passed puck analogy:  a good pass “leads” its recipient, but not by too much.  The puck goes to where the receiver will be and can reach it.  Too far ahead, and the puck sails away.  Too far behind and the recipient has to slow down or turn around.  Similarly, a new product should enable a user to do what he already wants to do – it should present itself to the user right when it is most useful and in a way that’s easy to “get.”

In developing a new product, it can be fairly easy to see whether you’ve “passed the puck to the right spot” through hands-on engagement with users.  A great product will usually require little explanation for its users, even in its early form (or even as a prototype).  The more explanation a product or value proposition needs for its would-be users, the more work it needs.

You can probably think of a number of products that “succeed” in delivering the puck in the right place – the iPhone and iPad are ready examples – but it’s easy to forget those that miss (including a  predecessor device, the Newton).  The raft of new messaging apps and bots are sorting themselves into these two camps as I write this,but the best ones (Venmo was an early example) take advantage of the presence of users on a messaging application and naturally lead the user to exploit this same medium to engage with a software product.  They meet the user where they are (texting or messaging) and allow them to do what they already naturally want to do (with Venmo, make a payment).


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