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How to build a great digital product

Start-ups, Product Development
Read in 5 minutes
Written by: Doug Taylor

You have an idea in mind, maybe for a start-up or a new digital product for an existing business, but where do you even begin building it? Should you start with some designs on the back of an envelope (is that still a thing? I don’t think I’ve used an envelope so far this year), or turn the best and brightest minds around you towards developing something immediately? Absolutely not. You’ve got to start with some understanding…

The first step in building a great digital product is to focus on the intended user and understand their problems. What problem will your product solve for its users? Will it simplify a currently time-consuming or laborious task? Or offer new insights or entertainment?  Do products like yours already exist? Have they been successful or have they failed? If they failed, it’s vital that you understand why so that history doesn’t repeat itself at your expense (unless of course, their failure was purely a timing issue and the market just wasn't ready yet!). If they succeeded, you need to understand implicitly why yours would be the better option. According to Nir Eyal, author of Hooked and Indistractable, if you're innovating in an already existing space, your product has to be 9 times better than your competitors to draw users away from existing solutions. Consumers, Eyal argues, irrationally overvalue the old, while companies overvalue the new.

By spending some time upfront investigating the market and your intended audience you can start laying a solid foundation upon which to build a great product.

Understanding your audience

If the key to building a great product is understanding your target audience, the ideal customers for your product, where do you begin? 

Talk to your customers, collate data about their needs and desires and compare that to the plan for your product. Are there any particular strengths to promote or oversights that need to be amended? When making the comparison between feedback and your plan, remember to stay detached. Your passion for your business shouldn't make you overlook or dismiss crucial feedback from your target audience.

You can define your target audience through a number of methods, such as by demographic information - gender, age, profession, location; by interests - hobbies, passions; or by purchase intentions - users who recently indicated they are about to make a specific purchase (searching for a holiday, car, pension etc). Ideally your target audience would factor in a number of these audience types in order to build a more complete picture of your users.


Have a clear vision

It is super, super, super important to have a clear vision for your digital product and to make sure everyone on your team is aligned with it. You need to be able to articulate what your product is and why people should care about it, clearly and concisely. I’ve worked in a number of environments previously where the vision for a product wasn’t clear enough in the minds of their creators, or the vision lacked focus, or it simply wasn’t communicated clearly enough to the team responsible for building the product. The end result in these cases is nearly always a murky product that’s either at risk of constant feature creep, or never lives up to expectations or ROI.

Define your vision, share it with your team and make sure it stands up to scrutiny (again, remember to stay detached when listening to feedback that highlights holes or issues with the vision). Encourage your team to buy-in to the vision and keep them up-to-date with any changes made as a result of feedback.

Build a great team

In order to build a great digital product, it is important to have a great team. Achieving success in the tech industry is difficult, but it is possible if you have the right people on your side. Will you hire a new team to build the product, or use existing staff? If you’re using an established team, do they have the time and resources available to dedicate themselves to making your new product a success? In some cases, the answer is likely to be that engaging a digital agency (such as Hex!) is the right path for you. We’ve written about these approaches in more detail in our guide to well-considered staffing

Get the right funding

A crystal clear vision and a dedicated team aren’t going to mean much if you can’t fund your product build and growth. You need to know where the money is coming from, and where it is going. If your company is already established, it’s likely a portion of an existing budget is being transferred over to fund the new product - and with it comes the expectation that that budget is carefully managed and ROI is proven. Make sure you keep a careful eye on expenditure and another eye firmly fixed on delivering the vision.

If you’re building a new product as a start-up there are a number of routes available to you to secure funding. We’ve covered some of these in our article on boot-strapping. Hex are also able to , get in touch to discuss your requirements.


Product Build Quality, Testing and QA

Funding secured, team committed, audience understood, vision etched clearly into everyone’s minds, you’re well on your way to building a great product.

Now you need to focus on the product build. Quality is important here. Clearly, a well-designed and easy to use product is more likely to succeed than complex, obtuse one. Your goal should be to get your users up and running quickly, with as much of a frictionless experience as possible. 

At every step of the way you should be aiming to test, improve and iterate on your product, based on feedback from users and stakeholders. Keep a record of how people are using your product and make changes based on what you learn - but remember to stay focussed on your vision. If you react to feedback by steering away from the core concept you have been aiming for it won’t be long before your original vision is lost in the woods.

Setbacks and mistakes

Finally, you should be prepared for failure. I’m not suggesting your idea is doomed from the start, simply that as you work to build a great product you will make mistakes. Perfect success with a first product launch is so extremely rare that it’s almost unobtainable. Don’t let setbacks discourage you from continuing down the path of innovation. Keep that vision in mind, keep working, and deliver.

Rise to the challenge

Building a great product is challenging. It won’t happen without some stress among the successes and failures. Wherever you are on your journey to launching your product, the team at Hex are here to help. With experience across a range of industries and organisation sizes, we’ve delivered numerous successful products for our clients. Schedule a call with our team today and let’s talk about your grand vision.


Images courtesy of Jakob Søby on Unsplash, and Glen Carrie on Unsplash.