Oh wait, it clicks • July 20, 2023

How to shape product ideas that users will love

S1 E1 – how to communicate product ideas so they'll resonate with users and other team members

[00:00:00] Hello everybody. I'm Nick. And this is Matt. And together we are Markham Square. Where day in, day out. We are building digital products and designing digital products and websites and experiences for all sorts of wonderful businesses on the web and our jam. And our whole goal is helping people succeed on the web.

And that's exactly what we're gonna talk to you about today. And one thing that we're always kicking around here and talking about is. why is it so hard to translate your vision or your big idea into something that people can actually use and touch and feel with their hands and experience and interact with here?

And what we're gonna go through is kind of just our experience as designers and developers and dealing with kind of folks day in, day out who are trying to accomplish this and give you all some tips and [00:01:00] tricks for, for communicating those ideas a little bit better. and hopefully bringing your ideas to light in a a cleaner and clearer fashion.

So, Matt, why don't you start us off here. Tell us about a time that maybe you had a hard time translating your idea into, into something tangible and, and how did you kind of get unstuck there and, and drive forward? Yeah, I think that's a great question, Nick. You know, I think there are a lot that come to mind and a, a lot of these happened before I think I had digital or design literacy.

and I know that's something you talk about a lot and teach a lot about quick little plug for Nick's new think like a designer course. But I, I, early on in my digital career or my tech career I would get ideas, I get excited about a startup idea or something or other, and I would, I would immediately come to my, you know, pen and paper, start writing out, you know, Ideas, features, data sets, you know, things that I, I thought were important to building that product.

but I would always get to a point where I, I either I [00:02:00] was implementing or starting to implement and I, I think designing is probably where I was the weakest early on in my career, and then had. You know, the, the most struggle trying to visualize these ideas and concepts. And I think that, you know, partially had to do with the lack of experience, but also I think it's the hard, a really hard thing to do is translate a thought into like a physical or digital rather interface.

And, and that is just a skill that you need to practice and rehearse and, and get better at. But that I, there is, I, I could, I don't know, like a specific app that I could point to and say, all right, this is where, like I have a good example of, you know, where I struggled with that process. I just feel like it happened a lot early on where I was trying to take some great idea that I had and, and get it, get it to a point where I could you know, make a digital product.

And one of the things that helped me in my journey, especially, you know, refin these skills was writing being able to write down my ideas and. Flesh out the whole product [00:03:00] vision. And then as a developer, I was a developer first in my career, I was able to then break those into data tables. So I built, I used to be a backend first guy. I, I've now switched, you know, front end first design and then backed that into your data sets. But when I was first starting out, I, I went through designing my databases first and being able to have that conversation and draw that line to then inform some of my front end conversation and the rest of the application.

Was at least a starting point for me. so I don't know if I answered the question, but I, I think it brought up a lot of ideas that maybe you can latch onto or, or talk about. But I, I, I think the, kind of the core underlying things for me are like, what you need in order to start translating ideas and applications is having an understanding of the world.

So you need like, design, digital and like product literacy to understand how those three things interact. But fourth and maybe foremost is like, Kind of this like business acumen. You have these three, you know, [00:04:00] independent vehicles of like building a product. Like how do they all interact and how do they all align with the, the overall vision of the, of the product or the business that you're building and how are you gonna make that marketable and, and be able to sell that and integrate that into like the solution you're building based off market feedback or user feedback, et cetera.

So, I dunno, I dunno if I answered the question, but those are kinda my thoughts about it. I'm curious to hear if you have a specific example or something that that comes to mind when you think about that. Yeah. So, no, I think that's all great stuff. And I think where I, where I see a lot of people get tripped up is, is when they don't have that like saying that technical literacy or that design literacy.

And it's hard, right? You're kind of stuck here in idea Land or you, you, you know it, we see it, right? You're like, oh man, I just need to see it in front of me. Somebody needs to build it. And then I can be like, this is perfect. Or, or this is where we can tweak this thing, right? And that I think is the the crux of a lot of like problems, especially in product teams where they're like non-technical talent and technical [00:05:00] talent.

Where, where the technical talent goes off, does like an MVP or spikes out a feature, and then the non-technical stakeholders can come in and give feedback and kind of, you can optimize from there. But even if you, regardless of whether you're technical or non-technical, I think just getting an idea out in like real space and, and meet space and actually saying like, okay, here it is.

Like we can see it and we can, whether that's a written a document that kind of describes the problem and, and what you are envisioning. Whether, what I love to do is storyboard, so if you can grab, you know, just kind of like from from the user's perspective, from the person you're solving the problem for, just draw stick figures.

It doesn't have to be crazy, you know, you're not getting an art degree, but just kind of get out there and say, okay, like scene one, this is what the, their problem is. Scene two. This is how they experience their problem. Like when in, when in the world does that problem start impacting their life? Scene three, okay, this is what my solution would look like and how it start solving the problem for 'em.

Just draw it out, right? And, and as you go through those steps and you start [00:06:00] identifying that user journey, that's where your, your solution's going to start coming to life. And anybody can do that, right? You don't need a design degree or an engineering background to make that a reality. Just get it out of your head and into something, something tangible.

And I think that gets a lot of conversations unstuck, and that's a way more productive conversation if you're coming to an engineer or designer with a storyboard. they can see what you're thinking and you can have a, you have something tangible and you can say, step forward. Let's break that down.

Cause I'm getting lost there versus like, you've explained this. What happens I see is I see a lot of deer in the headline. I see a lot of, you've explained this idea to me for the last 20 minutes. I'm just trying to wrap my mind around it and it's like, oh, well this is, this is fixed stuff. I can't understand this at all.

Yeah. and I'm sure Matt, you've, you've probably seen this a thousand times, right? Definitely. Yeah. Absolutely. And it's funny, I, I think this storyboarding is a really good. Tool or vehicle that you can use to start getting your ideas out. I'm wondering if, you know, for anybody listening, if you have another example, Nick, of [00:07:00] something, a kind of a template you would use to write down these ideas.

Like what and how would you break down these concepts and, and you know, give a digestible, like if I'm, if I'm too shy to make a storyboard or something. You know, domestic figures are really damning. what would, what content would you wanna put on a piece of paper to share with the designer or an engine or your product team to kick off a conversation about a feature or some, some elaborate MVP or something.

Yeah, so I think I, I think we overcomplicate this. Sometimes we kind of say like, here's the formula, here's the way to do it. Ul ultimately, like people love stories, right? We love hearing stories. We're, we're consuming stories all the time. So what I would tell you to do is tell the story. Don't worry about like, I need my problem statement, and then the mission statement, and then like the five things the user has to do, like, screw all that, right?

Get it. Just don't even worry about it. What I would encourage you to do is tell the story for any good story. You need characters. You need a problem? And then you need some sort of rising action, like, why is this problem getting [00:08:00] worse and worse and worse? What is the conflict in the story? And then you need the solution, right?

Or the, or the, the climax. And, and that is again, just follow that hero's journey. Who is having this problem? What, where is their hero? What are they, what are they, what are they going and, and dealing with in their life? What is this problem that they're running into? Because ultimately, right, Every solution, and this gets lost sometimes.

Every solution should be solving a problem for somebody. If you're writing your story down and you're struggling to identify what the problem is, You probably don't have a good solution. You've, you've, you've yeah. Glommed onto something that like, feels good and like you're super jazzed about, but like, really, if you can't articulate and define the problem that that solution is, is solving, you've got nothing you can sell.

You've got nothing that you're gonna be able to pitch to people. You've got nothing you can convince somebody to actually like, adopt. And so articulating that problem is a huge part of this. And then once you and, and then you also have to like, Articulate why this is a, like, a big problem. Like people don't care about little problems.

especially in [00:09:00] like digital product space. They're not gonna pay $10 a month for something that's like a minor inconvenience. They'll just deal with the problem, right? You really need to kind of identify like, oh, why is this like impeding them from accomplishing one of their, their big life goals or from, from something central to their experience as a person and, and really sort of saying like, oh, this is preventing them from.

Earning 10 x more. I bet they're gonna want whatever your solution is, if that is the case, and really kind of identify those things. And then what is the problem? How does the pro, how does, sorry, what is the solution? How does that solve the problem? And again, it doesn't have to be technical, it just needs to be, they get the thing, it enables them to then do this X, y, and Z thing.

And then they're, they're good. They're good to go. They're getting the value. And that delta, that difference between where they are in that problem and the life they have now that they have your solution. That's all your marketing copy, that's all your, that's all your pitch material. That is, that is all the value right there, the value that you're, you're creating for people.

I think when you start thinking about it in those terms, [00:10:00] you can describe any problem. You don't, again, you don't need a formula. It doesn't have to be more, more complicated than that. Just simplify it and make it as clear and direct as you possibly can. How's that feel, man? Did that get you, that, that's feeling pretty good.

That feels like a nice digestible piece of content there that you, you've really isolated how to, how to tr, you know, get going down the path of translating your ideas. I did, I wonder though, like, well, my head started going, my, I jumped to the next step. So when you, as you described that my head started going okay.

So I, I've done this whole process of like writing out my problem, getting some feedback on it. and this is like how I, I guess, I dunno, you started jumping into not the solution, but like marketing and sales and like how good your problem is based off your ability to tell a story. Right? but I think that's only like half the, when building a [00:11:00] product that's only half the story, right?

Because you need to get feedback from. Folks out there about what you're building, what you're, what you're deciding if your problem's good enough. Right. and it's, it's funny that sometimes that, that fear or that idea that, like my, my, the problem I'm coming up with. I haven't validated it against other folks yet.

I sometimes tears me from like, actually even pursuing that first step of like writing it down and I just wanted to make space to say like, you know, sometimes it's the exercise of expressing your problems and writing them down allows you to validate them yourself, but also allows you to like, I don't know, at least start having those discussions with people who start testing and validating your own ideas versus, you know, just kind of shooting into the void and starting a product.

Before you, you know, and building the wrong thing. which is what we hate to do and we, we hate to see happen. And, you know, sometimes it's you know, unavoidable. But I think using tools like we're laying [00:12:00] out here where you're having discussions early about the initial problem statement of what you're, you're focused on the problem, right?

Not the solution. Like, I think gotta fall in love with the problem. I think that's what fall the problem. You know, really obsess and define what that problem you're trying to solve. The rest of these solutions are gonna come to you naturally. Like there's so many things out there now where you can use no code solutions, you can use, you know Zapier and, and you know, 20 integrations to solve problems.

Like you don't even need a full blown tech team to, to solve certain things. But as long as you know what that problem is, You know, you can start having that conversation and start looking for solutions. And I think it's really powerful in a much different world than we, especially with AI now, it's a much different world than when you and I started, you know, building technical things and like, there was like a real dependency on being able to code to create MVPs and create, you know, these basic apps.

it's just kind of a, an interesting reflection on like the last 10 years pretty much of our, of our careers. It's [00:13:00] the best time to build. Now's the day. The best time was yesterday. But you know, like, it's, it's crazy. It's, it's actually unbelievable, like the, the technology and the tools that enable creation these days.

It's the best time ever. You've truly can. It's not a better time. But what hasn't changed is what we've been talking about is like, yeah, finding a real problem that people need solved and then solving it well, there's. So many terrible solutions out there. It's the, the internet is littered with, with half solutions and, and, and just bad, bad design, bad code, bad, bad problem solving, bad logic, bad, bad thinking.

And, and really the, the only antidote to any of those things is spending the time to really kind of understand, do I have a problem? Is it worth solving and if it is worth solving, have I have I do I really understand it from beyond my own perspectives? Have I talked to 50 people who have that same problem?

Have I do I really [00:14:00] have the ability to get outside my own head and see this through somebody else's eyes, somebody else's perspective? And, and wrap my mind around how they would be experiencing the problem. And I think that's the, I think the key to any sign successful team that we interact with is, is really their, their velocity of learning and how quickly they can get.

Their understanding of a, a problem bootstraps. And the only way they do that is by talking to people. By, by going out there, having conversations. And, and the funny thing is like, that's hard. Like, that's like really, it's, it's, there's like ego death involved. You're gonna, you're talking to people and, and half of them are gonna be like, I, I don't have this problem.

This is a dumb, this is a dumb thing. Why are you talking about this? The other, the other half of them are then gonna be like, Oh yeah, this might be a problem. And then there's that, that little subset there that's like, oh my God, I can't believe you guys are talking about this. I, I think about this all the time.

And those are the pe you wanna find more of those people, right? and, but nobody wants to get through that 99% upfront. Of just like, just, it's a [00:15:00] slog. It's like sales. It's like you're, you're getting that rejection and that that, that initial barrier. But people are out there, the internet's enormous.

There's, there's right billions of people on the internet now. Somebody somewhere is probably likely having your problem. And if you can't find them, that's, that's a great indication. We should find another problem. and, and air go another solution. But but yeah, it's, it's, it's crazy how. Few people wanna put in that work.

That's, I mean, ultimately the, the work of an entrepreneur is to go and, and figure that out and, and do that grind and, and get your answers there so you can keep on, keep on pushing. it's amazing if we, and it's crazy how far you can get into a project, and if you had only done that at the beginning, how much heartache and, and failure that would've saved you from and, and it's something that, I think the, the best teams are doing, and if everybody else did it a little bit more, we'd be, we'd have a better internet and better products out there.

Yeah, definitely Amy, Amy Hoy comes to mind whenever you start talking [00:16:00] about, you know doing your market research and finding your watering holes and digging in deep there. but this is all kind of, I think, leading to next logical jump for me, which is Hypothetically speaking, we have a product.

We've gone out there, we've talked to as many people as we can. We validated, Hey, this is a great problem solve. So our initial question was, how do we turn these thoughts, ideas into a digital product? We've gone through kind of phase one, which we, I, I guess we'd call validation, right? Like, we validated this problem, we know it's good, ready to solve it.

What are you doing now? What are you going to call VCs and say, Hey, I need 10 billion so I can make this app? Or will, you know, are you bootstrapping and making an mvp? Like where and who, who are you equipping that team with? How, how are you doing that? Well, I think you bring up some, a lot of different points, A lot of good points.

I think fundamentally it's really hard to have I think you, you've gotta make the space in your life to go and go and do this. And so I think that, yeah, that VC versus bootstrapping [00:17:00] conversation, It's like, what, what, what gets you there in a sustainable, healthy way the fastest. Right. cuz I think any, a lot of people can bootstrap, but they can find.

Five more hours a day or a week even to just go and, and plug away at this. and we, we talk about Amy Hoy and she's, she's a great advocate for, you know, just make another hour a day for yourself. Kind of watch a little less TV if you can. yeah, you gotta be, you gotta have the time and the ability to, to put some energy towards this cause that's all, all.

You need to get started. It's just directed energy, directed focus. It's like any, anything. It's like if you want to lose weight or go to the gym, like you just need to spend the time there. You gotta do the thing. And so if you're doing the act of of, of validation and then building you're g you just need to make the time and you can, you, you can get really far doing that.

And so, I think there's a little bit of a misnomer where like, I need VC funding or I need Angel capital to go build something. Yeah, that helps it. It's nice to [00:18:00] have the ability to draw a paycheck while you're building these things, but the vast majority of things I, I definitely believe you can start.

Very small and, and with a few tests and that sort of stuff gets yourself that initial traction you don't need a lot of support with at all. but in terms of actually like taking, now that you've got this validation and, and building it, I think again, it's, it's about speed and it's, it's about continued validation is that velocity of learning.

So how I like to always think about, it's like, what's my first experiment? What, what do I wanna learn first? And how can I get that into people who would buy this product's hands fastest? And so maybe I can build a landing page really quickly and say, okay. We're not for sale yet. We're in beta or we're, we're, we're, you need to reserve your spot, basically, but at least put the value proposition out there.

Are people signing up for this? Are people like interested in, in what we're pitching them? are we starting to build a list of interests and just kind of integrate it into like beehive or something, or MailChimp and just start building an [00:19:00] email list. And this is, you can start talking to those people.

I think that's there, there's so much value in that, that human connection. And again, and now all of a sudden you've got inbound, right? You've got people coming to you saying like, oh, I, I need this solution here. And you can keep having more conversations with them. And nobody wants to hear that. Nobody wants to hear, start with like a test or an experiment.

They want to hear, oh no, now you can start. Now you have permission to go start building the thing. but again, I think you are. Your ultimate solution is, is always going to be evolving. It's gonna be, and you can, you can again, reduce a lot of heartache if you can focus on this beginning and and, and really push yourself to that, to that next level.

Definitely, definitely. Yeah. I hear I hear speaking of problems, I hear some youngins in the background that might be causing issues over there. no, but I, I think that's, those are all really great points. I love the Wizard of Oz. Um [00:20:00] Statement or the, you know, solution to a, a validation, you know creating those landing pages and just seeing who's, who's out there gonna sign up.

and maybe that's all you need sometimes to get your marketing out there and understand who's gonna, who's gonna come chat with you. so I think that that feels like a pretty good start to that conversation. but I think maybe we get a bit more granular and like talk about. Processes a little bit about like how we literally go from having a conversation with somebody.

Well, I think a feature is maybe a better way to frame this, or, you know, how do you take an idea and make it, make it into a digital product? Like how does, how does that happen? Or how does it, you know, how do we translate that And I can, I'll pass that one off. I can pass that one off to you, Nick, if you're in a good space.

I don't wanna put you on the spot, Johnny, on the spot here. well, I think that's all right, but I also think we've got a lot more time to fill in all of our subsequent podcast episodes here. So I [00:21:00] think at this point, why don't we call it a day here? I think we've covered a ton of ground from, how do you kind of start with that?

I've got this nebulous idea, this problem, this idea. I want to communicate this, I need to get it out there, I wanna validate it. and, you know, telling that story, starting with the narrative is, is supremely, supremely helpful? And then in our subsequent episodes, we're gonna talk a little bit more about the, the nuts and bolts of actually okay, let's get this thing out there in front of people and how do we start building it.

So thank you so much for listening. We're so excited to get this off the ground, and we hope you'll join us next time.

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