a mini-product from scratch – #4, idea pruning and validation

Categories DailyTracks, Product Development, Products

This mini-series focuses on ad-hoc quick-and-dirty product development, building a mini-product from scratch.

In my previous posts I’ve summarily talked about the product idea generation processproduct naming strategies and customer profiling and it was fun.

After sketching out the idea and pinning down the prospective customers it’s time to validate and polish the idea.

This phase is essential and skipping it is usually the biggest mistake a value builder does (that’s what we are right? call it whatever you want but in the end we create products and products add value).

Why is skipping validation and polishing your product definition a mistake? Well, think about it.

You have a product idea and:

  • you make assumptions about the benefits that your hypothetical product brings to your hypothetical customers
  • you skim down and think about these hypotheses, you expand them and give them veridicity
  • you plan how you are going to build the product based on this line of though, maybe invest in different things, you incur costs
  • you try to market it and… it doesn’t work
  • you scrap it

That happens because people don’t exactly behave like you want them to, or think about things like you do. We’re different and sometimes that’s not a good thing.


To work smart and build something that has the most important property of a product – a customer – you have to get out of your comfort zone and validate your idea.

That usually involves finding some people that fit your prospective customer profile and ask them a few questions, like:

  • have you ever encountered “insert the problem that your product solves”?
  • what do you usually use to solve “insert insert the problem that your product solves”?
  • how does that work for you? how would you do it differently?
  • would you use something that “insert product idea here”?
  • would you find “insert product benefit here” compelling?
  • what would it take for you to switch from “the product that you are already using” to “another product that solves the same problem”?
  • what would you pay for something that solves “insert insert the problem that your product solves”?

It’s very important to ask open-ended questions so try to avoid asking questions such as “is this something that you would pay for?” instead ask “how much would you be willing to pay for something that solves the problem?”.

If they wouldn’t pay for it (the pain is less than the gain) they’ll say nothing and you have your answer. If they say “I’d pay x $” you get more than a simple “yes”.

Polishing and pruning your product idea

While validating your product idea and talking with prospective customers you can also fine-tune it, polish it. If you’re taking the time to discuss with different people about your idea anyway why not shoot two rabbits with one stone.

Pruning (there’s a nice agricultural analogy for you) essentially means taking the details of your product idea and eliminating them one by one during validation.

It’s better to have 10 useful and complete features than 50 poorly thought and unfinished ones. Any product idea branches in 100 different directions. There’s a ton of things that your product could do, tens of problems it could solve. You don’t want that. You want a product that solves a problem really well in a simple and beautiful manner.

Plus, there’s this guy called Joseph Juran (a pretty smart guy) that suggested a principle and named it after another (pretty smart) guy called  Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto – the rule of “the vital few and trivial many”, or the 80/20 rule, or the Pareto principle.


Now this little sucker is important and applying it will help you produce a better product with a higher yield. Now, if it doesn’t, it’s still going to lower your cost of failure, which is a good thing, however you look at it.

To apply it properly, think of the following axioms:

  • 80% of your results will be produced by 20% of the effort
  • 80% of the value of your product will be produced by 20% of your product idea
  • 80% of the problem will be solved by 20% of the features
  • 80% of your users will be satisfied by 20% of the hypothetical benefits

It’s not an exact science. For example, Microsoft Research found that the average user only uses 8% of Microsoft Word features. I don’t say that they made a mistake by developing 92% more stuff, but hey, if they could have stopped at 30% and only lost 20-30% of the userbase that would have been alot cheaper.

Now, applying this principle will help you determine which product features are important and you’ll be able to focus your attention and resources on these low-hanging, high-yield features, which will pay off. Identifying these takes a little skill and a lot of asking prospective customers.

That’s why it’s called pruning. You take your ideas, validate and polish them, and keep the most promising ones.

You don’t throw away the rest though. That would be dumb. Ideas are rare and easy to forget. Write them down and put them in an ice box. If your product is successful, you may implement them.

Back to dailytraks

Our little product is growing up and we’ve gone through the validation and polishing phase.

As this is an on-the-side, underground, “let’s tune our violin” product I didn’t go out harassing people with interviews like I’d do (along with some marketing types). What I did is this:

  • I set up a schedule and a budget – two weeks  duration, 4 hours effort
  • I contacted different people (a couple that I knew and 19 strangers – weird huh? like a stalker) and asked them my validation and polishing questions – out of these 21, I considered 17 to be relevant

I did this online, using slack (@startupstudygroup), LinkedIn and believe it or not, Facebook.

What did I find out? This:

  • It looks like having a sort of twitter variant that’s private and doesn’t have the 140 chars limit is really interesting. The problem that it solves is this: you collect your thoughts and any information you need to solve a problem or to investigate something in a topic – I’ll call that a trak. The most important thing, strangely enough, was the privacy – in this connected world it’s really nice to see that privacy for your thoughts is still a thing
  • having multiple traks is important – a user has multiple traks where he posts. each trak can be a subject, or a theme
  • usages:
    • as a log (as I tought – HA!)
    • as a medium to bring detail and clarity to ideas (4 actual persons said this – didn’t think about that)
    • as a place to write poetry (FREAKING poetry)
    • a more functional, simple notepad like app that i can keep to myself or share if i want (so private by design but shareable)
  • it should be damn simple by design, “to allow distraction-free creativity”, whatever that is. I’ll find out yet!
  • ideally it should have a web app AND a native app
  • it should include either text OR images. if it’s a text it’s plain text. if it’s an image it should be an image by itself
  • it should follow a timeline both in the web app and in the native app (HA!)
  • it should let you go through them either by searching, browsing through categories or visually – so actually finding them is important too 🙂

Also, most importantly, I discovered that something similar exists – https://thoughtstreams.io/ – similar as in it kind-off does something that is close, only publicly and, collaboratively, and multimedia and who knows what. It’s good to have some competition though, even if it’s not that close.

There you go. Now I have what it takes to take this idea to the next phase.

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