Since the launch of Startup Giraffe I’ve had the opportunity to speak to 50+ idea stage entrepreneurs.  I’ve been amazed at the diversity of good ideas that folks from outside of the startup scene have.  Through conversations with them I’ve realized that many could improve the way they think about launching products.  Here are some of the most common mistakes we see:

Feature Set is Too Broad for a First Iteration

Many entrepreneurs we’ve met want to build products for everyone.  Successful products start by having a tightly defined, niche audience and growing out from there. Products built for everyone serve no one.  If you can’t describe what your product does in one sentence, it’s probably too broad for a first iteration.  It’s great to have a big vision but the v1 feature set should only be a thin slice.

Not Defining Goals & Outcomes

After the product is built how will you measure success?

Do you want to see traction? Make sure you build virality into the product (don’t just tack on social invites at the end).  Make sure you can easily track how/when/why users are inviting their friends.

Do you want to raise a VC round? Talk to VC’s understand the metrics that they will use to calculate whether you are worth their investment.

Do you want to see if customers will pay for the product? Build in pricing up front, start measuring what percentage of your users convert to paid plans.

Building Functionality That Exists Elsewhere

Unless there’s a really compelling reason, most products don’t need to build their own chat, reviews, commenting, messaging, friending or following services.  You should focus on functionality that only your product offers and leverage third party API’s.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Thinking of UI Rather Than Tasks & User Stories

Many folks we speak to have done their own wireframes or have a strong idea of what the product should look like visually.  While this is extremely helpful in communicating the idea of the product, a better approach is to focus on personas and tasks.  Who are the archetypical users of your products?  What tasks do they want to be able to accomplish on the site?

I ask folks we work with to rank each feature by priority and how frequently the user will use it.  We then go in and estimate a level of difficulty for each task.  Based on this we can have a great conversation around scope.  Only once we understand the core feature set can we can start defining a minimal UI that addresses all tasks/user stories.

Not Speaking with Enough Potential Customers

Our team has gotten really good at trying to validate market fit before we write any lines of code.  We recommend that you speak to as many potential customers as possible.  Talk to real people about the problem you are trying to address not the solution.  Really try to understand their behaviors and motivations.  Whitney Hess has a great post about conducting user interviews.

Too Much Time Refining Details Rather then Executing

Many of the people we speak to have been thinking about their products for months. They’ve brainstormed every feature they can possible feature they can think of.  They’ve understood their goals and have whittled down their feature set to a true MVP, but yet they are still hesitant.  It isn’t perfect.  Unfortunately, it never will be.  The first iteration should be a tool to test your underlying assumptions and get you to the next level.  It’s a broad stroke that you will only be able to refine through metrics and observations/conversations with actual users.

Of course, there are many ways to get your product off the ground.   These are just our suggestions based on recent experience.  Agree or disagree?  Let me know…

Related posts:

  1. 8 Lessons Learned from Zynga about Virality
  2. 2010 Mobile Web Research: India and the World
  3. Steal This Product Idea #4 – CricketFaceoff.com
  4. Deciding Between Startup Ideas
  5. Steal this Product Idea #3: Get Together