Things I wish I knew when I became a founder: Product Discovery
I started Invincible hoping to apply my experiences from living with and building products for diabetes toward improving the way kids and families manage diabetes and other health conditions. Like most early-stage companies, my initial idea isn’t where we ultimately landed (see Nintendo, Twitter, and Flickr) but our mission of inspiring kids and families living with chronic health conditions has remained constant.
Talking to our users early and often has made all the difference and established the foundation for building a great product. Our journey is far from over (as I write this our app is live in 10 school districts but still has lots of scaling/business model challenges) but I wanted to share how we prioritized feedback from users early and often to hone in on the problem to solve, test concepts, and ultimately build a product that aims to inspire kids living with chronic health conditions.
Product Discovery & Why You Should Care
There’s no single way to do product discovery but the goal is always the same: form a deep, upfront understanding of what your users need.
No plan survives first contact. No matter how much you think you know, there’s no shortcut for talk to real users and getting real feedback. Product Discovery is all about starting at the core with customers to:
- Identify their problems and needs.
- Validate your ideas for solutions.
It helps you de-risk product, design, and marketing development by forming a close relationship with your users and letting them guide your design thinking so you end up solving real-user problems. As Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank says, “‘Build it and they will come,’ is not a strategy. It’s a prayer.”
Some of the key benefits of product discovery:
- Save time and money. Product discovery helps you validate whether your product needs to exist before spending a lot of money building, polishing, and marketing it. It makes you more agile.
- Your products will be more innovative. By incorporating customer viewpoints from the beginning, product discovery inspires your team to challenge their own assumptions and think outside of the box when making product decisions.
- Your team will love you. With product discovery, it’s not about the best idea — it’s about what users truly need. When you spend time getting early concepts in front of real people, you’ll build confidence what you’re building is solving a real problem and end up building something that actually serves a need.
Product Discovery Step 1 — Learn & Understand
In the early days, I spoke to lots of families about the challenges about managing their child’s daily care. Soon a common thread emerged — where kids spend 30+ hours a week: school. So I went back to school to find out what it was really like.
By the end, we talked to lots of schools — 57 school nurses to be exact (check out our findings here).
Product Discovery Step 2 — Define & Decide
Two key challenges emerged during our interviews that we thought we could help solve:
- Training non-licensed resources is a major challenge for school staff — and left families worried that their child wasn’t getting the care they needed.
- Coordinating care in the school setting is a big challenge, and parents are often left in the dark during the school day.
Founder Note: It was very tempting to fast-track our customer discovery process — it took a couple months. But it set the foundation for who we are as a company and really gave us a glimpse into a day in our customer’s shoes that we couldn’t have gotten any other way.
Product Discovery Step 3 — Ideate & Prioritize
With all these interviews under our belt, it was time to take action. We decided first to tackle the training challenge, starting with school staff like teachers that are with them for 30+ hours a week.
From the beginning, we thought bringing great design to health would be a core value proposition, especially compared to existing training that was serious and inflicts users with information overload.
Product Discovery Step 4 — Prototype & Test
Everything we build starts with a customer pain point which sparks an idea, became a drawing, which became a design, which became a prototype, and only then do we started building.
The earlier the concept, the more iterations are needed. In this case I highly recommend using the Google Ventures 5-Day sprint process, which will enable rapid decision-making and tested prototypes in just 1 week (read more here — http://www.gv.com/sprint/). If you want to see the specifics of how I run these, check out a few articles here and here.
And when it comes to prototyping, Figma has become the best IMO but there are lots of others including Principle, Invision, and Proto.io; not to mention there are also plenty of no-code tools available (like Webflow).
Early Concept Testing (Prototype 1: Clickable Training Prototype)
Our first concept we tested was a simple, fun way to learn the skills to manage a health condition at school.
We designed everything without code, going from sticky notes to pen and paper to designing in Sketch to prototyping in Invision. This allowed us to iterate fast and not get too attached to some bad ideas (and trust me, there were many). We tested with whoever would listen and went back to the 15 school districts who had interviewed to get their feedback.
MVP Testing (TestFlight Training App)
We incorporated the feedback from our 1st iteration into our next test to see if schools would actually use it. We aimed to replace the beginning-of-the-year school training with our app. We enlisted 5 school districts to test it and train anyone from principals to teachers to new health staff.
We rolled it out using TestFlight and waited to see how it would do.
The result? Well, it was pretty underwhelming. Turns out that at the beginning of the year, school staff are really busy and not looking for more work.
Through this testing, we also learned that training was important, but we were focused on the wrong problem: coordinating care was the real pain impacting care for kids, families, and school staff. Finding a way to help schools and families collaborate more effectively about care. This was the challenge we needed to help solve.
MVP Testing (Hacked-Together Communication Tool
With the new focus toward care coordination, we had 2 untested assumptions:
- That schools would use it.
- That families would like it.
So we did what only a resource-constrained startup could do: we hacked something together and tested it out (in case you’re curious we used a typeform survey to create the care log, then we send a text message using Zapier and Twilio. It’s ugly, but it worked). Here’s what it looked like:
The response was overwhelmingly positive:
- For the families, we’re replacing fear with regular check-ins.
- For the school nurse, we’re making building trust with families easy.
- For the kids, we’re moving diabetes to the background (they’ve already ditched their manual notebook logs). The 5th grader using it told us “It’s awesome”. 😃
From MVP Concept Testing to Real Product
With the prototype engaging 4 families every day, we set out to build an actual app so that we can enable 2-way communication between schools and families — and replace the sporadic methods of communication that currently exist.
Again we started with an early prototype and design (first prototype here). After lots of iterations, we eventually landed on what we have today: the Invincible App is live in 6 states and enables school staff, families, and the healthcare team to all stay on the same page through easy, secure tracking and communication throughout the day — in any language.
Download the app at www.invincibleapp.com.
Product Discovery Lessons Learned & how you can use it
Talking to our users early and often has made all the difference and established the foundation for building a great product. In our case, it means we intimately understand our users and their problems — and it cascades to everything we do.