5 Biggest Mistakes That Startups Make with Product Development

5 Biggest Mistakes That Startups Make with Product Development

By Nicolas Amarelle (CEO at CodigoDelSur)

After 10 years in this incredible and exciting road of helping startups all around the world in the creation of their projects, definitely I think that we are in good shape for indentifying some common mistakes that are repeated over and over in the creation of new products, and obviously (because presenting a problem without a solution is not our style) how to try to avoid them and not die in the attempt.

And to be clear, this list is not only about mistakes that we’ve seen once or twice, they’re definitely (and even statistically) mistakes that are much more common than what you would  rationally think.

Having been a part of the creation of over 200 different products, with clients from different backgrounds, for different industries and different platforms, with different technologies, with different public and with a different degree of success, certainly this shows us several problems that are repeated.

Something we are proud of and certainly makes our task very dynamic and entertaining is the diversity of projects that we have had the chance to participate, from the creation of Skout, a dating social network that has over 220 million users and is top 10 in the App Store, the development of Kindara, a fertility tracking app with over 1 million users, several babies conceived, is top 10 in the medical category, and one of the most successful projects among the several hundred incubated in Founder Institute.

  1. The focus in technology and not in the product

Ok, I’m going to start with the one that might be more surprising, coming from us, a company that’s actually the technological partner in the development of a product.  But, the reality is that our role, the role of technological partner, what technology we use, what libraries, what SDK, is a secondary role when it comes to creating a product.

You might ask… but how is this secondary if it is a digital product?! Yes, it is secondary. The main thing is what functionalities it is going to have and which ones it will not, what type of users it points towards and which others it does not target, what problem it resolves and which one it does not.

A typical example is the product owner that tells you that his application has to support millions of users, has to have an extremely high performance,  low latency, etc., etc. but without yet having solved which will be the basic functionalities of their MVP, what problem the app will solve, why would someone use the app and not the other 100 existing out there.

My advice for avoiding this mistake is, as a dear ex boss once said to me and really changed my vision about technology and its role: Technology is tool,  not an end. The end is the product. The technology that is used is simply a tool for creating it, and although it is very important, focusing in what tool to use and not focusing in what you want to build will not take us to a good successful conclusion.

  1. Thinking the idea is more important than the execution

And I’m hooking the last phrase of the previous item to start this next mistake. The majority of times founders give too much importance to the idea, and little to the execution. They invest dozens of hours (and money) in signing an NDA, being jealous with how much information could be revealed about their idea, etc.

Guys, I have some news and a piece of advice, there are already at least 10 apps like yours. The advice is: execute it better than the other 9.

After developing over 200 products and having participated in thousands of meetings (yes, thousands. 10 per day in the last 10 years) getting to know entrepreneurs and their respective ideas, I can assume the following challenge: If I received a dollar per idea that I am told and it already exists and I give you $1,000,000 per idea that I am told and there is not anyone out there that has already done it – at this point I would be a millionaire.

However, as obvious as it is and no matter how much it is repeated, and how often we see memes in LinkedIn about this matter, this misconception repeats itself once and again.

A way to avoid this error, goes hand in hand of my previous advise; relax, you don’t have the idea of the century. What you can aspire to is to be the executer of the century. Share your idea, validate it with colleagues, with mentors, market, providers, receive feedback, and go for the app knowing that there is another huge group competing with you.

  1. Not giving the necessary importance to app marketing

The days where ‘I make a hell of an app, I publish it, the Apple review guys like it, they feature it, people download it one million times, I get 20 million in investment, the app becomes famous and I become rich’ are gone.  They went flying very far away, like a bird shot with a slingshot 😉

That momentum is gone, and nowadays, it does not matter if you have an app that solves a gigantic problem, if the app provides a user experience that is out of this world, that is developed following the latest technologies, if no one knows your app, it will die in oblivion.

A lot of times, entrepreneurs are too focused on the previous items, which obviously are important too, but leave aside totally the marketing of the app. They continue with the idea of over 10 years ago where an app would become famous just because it was good.

The reason is simple; 10 years ago there were hundreds of applications. Today, there are millions and every time your competitors dedicate more time and money to having their app, and not yours, found.

Our advice here is designating a similar budget (or even greater depending on the core business of the app) to marketing and promoting the app than what is destined to developing the product. In the app world it does not matter how good your app is, if no one knows about it.

  1. Wanting to skip steps in the development process

Being an entrepreneur is not easy. You have scarce resources, a lot of places that need those resources and above all, anxiety to “see something running”. Frequently this anxiety will take you to want to skip steps in the product creation process, with the wrongful idea of thinking that skipping steps mean accelerating the process.

Like everything in life, the creation of a software product has its method and steps, and there are different approaches and methods. The certain thing is that one has to exist and be respected.

At CodigoDelSur , we use Agile Methodology. Its basic principles are short iterations; the definition of what it is that adds value to the product, early market validation, among other principles.

The typical steps (which should not be skipped) are the stage of product approach or “discovery phase” that generally takes about two weeks, where basically we “think out” the product. Then, the stage of UX definition, where we define the look and feel of the app, as well as the user experience, the flow between screens, where we generate a front-end that is non-functional,  and then, the development of the MVP. Some stages can be done in parallel, but none of them should be skipped.

It is very common that entrepreneurs let anxiety of “seeing something” win them over with the idea that this will bring them faster to the result, for less money. In reality, the general effect tends to be the opposite – what you don’t pay in the beginning you end up paying at the end, ending up with fixes, modification and even major re-engineering that could have been avoided if no stages were left out.

We try to be really firm respecting the product creation process, and educating our clients in the importance of it, in general with great results. 

  1. The expectation of a fixed price and fixed time frame 

I left for the end the worst of the most common mistakes we see when we speak with potential clients about the development of a product, and also the one that is most difficult to explain why it is a mistake.

99% of times clients come to us with an idea, a few pages with some details about it, and after a 30-minute meeting they expect that we tell them how long the project will take and how much it will cost.

Again, even though when you read this written, plane, and simple, you might say “this can’t be possible, people can’t pretend this”, believe me, it happens. Wanting to have a fixed price for the development of a new project is something as idealistic as useless.

And attention! I am approaching this as an ERROR our clients make, not as a problem that we, as providers, have. As an investor in a product, o entrepreneur (if I someday go back to this arena), I would be VERY worried if a possible provider estimates my idea, which I might not even have totally clear, in a fixed time frame and cost. Quite simply: THEY ARE GUESSING!

This has only one reading, someone will lose, and in general the one that looses is the product, either by having less functionalities than the ones it needs, or not being as flexible in the incorporation of changes, or not having the quality that is needed. The creation of a new product is an ongoing process, and that is how it should be approached.

Am I saying, start the development of a product without having any idea how much it is going to cost? Of course not, but yes that you should not start expecting a fantasy “plan” of times and costs, based on pure intuition, that will work exactly as planned. This is part of the risk.

In conclusion, find a partner whom you trust, make sure you know about their reputation, contact their past clients, talk with them, try to get an approximate idea of the costs, but do not choose based on promises, most likely it will not be the best decision.

 

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