From Passion to Product

REACT Producer Gabriel Gilson offers some tips on the tricky challenge of refining ideas, finding an audience and bringing your product from the drawi


“In a start-up you're not just trying to solve problems, you're trying to solve problems users care about.”

- Paul Graham


Here at REACT we do big. We do conference rooms full of ideas and cross genre collaborations and we also do small and perfectly formed. Between our Sandbox projects and our Strategic Fund (now known as the Feasibility and Prototype funds) our projects range in scale, theme and scope but they all tackle the complex proposition of making something new, engaging and brilliant in the world.

So far so good. But there are some common challenges all these projects face once they've scoped the core idea: how to reach an audience. How to shape their concept for maximum impact. How to construct a business to suit the product and how to harness their own personality, passions and talent to best effect.

This post tackles a few of those questions. The tips below are culled from our first Strategic Fund workshop where our Feasibility and Prototyping projects came together to explore the  opportunities and challenges associated with creative innovation. 

The suggestions aren’t exhaustive, and they may not all apply to you, but if you’ve got an idea you want to get out to the world it’s not a bad collection to help you on your way as you move your great idea from lunch to launch.

Free your mind and your product will follow.

Like staring at yourself in the mirror, it can be surprisingly had to focus on your own work. But without critical reflection you risk wasting months of effort in a blind alley or thinking everything is beyond you. A great prompt to get around this is to list all the things stopping you from achieving success. What are the barriers to progress? This might be knowledge you don’t yet have, internal factors like lack of time, or external factors like hardware. Ideally go through the list with a neutral 3rd party and see what answers occur naturally.   

Part of that reflection is likely to be about the priorities of your scope. In the words of Steve Jobs: “Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”  Throw a feature out everyday to make sure you're left with the parts that really work and are really needed by your users. Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you have to.

It’s also going to be important to understand which bits of the project you’re emotionally invested in. Those are the parts you’ll be most passionate about communicating to others. You also need to gauge if you actually have the skills in that area or if it should remain a hobby.

Assuming all goes well, you'll also need to prepare to make a decision on the scale of your business. Are you going to stay as a cottage industry, or make the leap to relinquishing direct control so more projects can run simultaneously? The former is often seen as the most satisfying, but in pure economics the latter could make more money and free you up to develop new products. 

Process is the mother of invention.

There are of course well known methods to develop a new idea or product for the market. It might be a project management framework to keep your work prioritised and on track, or it might be a whole development mindset. Whatever approach you adopt, you’ll need to build in opportunities to test with real people and challenge your assumptions. As the phrase goes, test fast and test often. Do A/B comparisons, build quick prototypes. You should start testing with groups of 5 – 50 people. Then expect to do a closed Beta with up to a few thousand to get serious market data.

Identify your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). That’s both a buzz phrase and a development philosophy many people use. 

As you start thinking about your audience, try the Sean Ellis test on your potential users. How ‘Must Have’ is your product?

Facing The Audience

Once you’ve got beyond proof of concept, you’ll most likely need to flip your thinking and start being led by what your audience actually want rather than what you think they want. Remember, you are not your audience. To achieve success you’ll need to make something people want and understand where the value to them is in your proposition.

Even small user testing groups can give you hugely valuable feedback. It’s the quality of the feedback rather than the scale. And don’t forget to think about practicalities that could massively effect how you can scale your idea. Where will people be when they use it? Can they or will they use it more than once? How do they find it? Are they already looking?

This will lead you in to thinking about how to scale the idea. What’s the first commission, what’s the second commission, what’s the Nth commission?

Position Your Proposition

Be aware of what else is going on in this field and be prepared to differentiate yourself from the competition. There are many guides to help with this. Read Blair Enns' 'Win Without Pitching', or try 'Blue Ocean Strategy'.

Your starting point should be not to pay for marketing. Marketing is often split into categories of ‘paid, earned, owned’.

Start with the assumption you don’t need to do paid any more. This is now so accepted some investors will baulk if they see paid for marketing in your business plan. Think how you can build true long term value without it. Remember, all your content is actually marketing, it it’s not then your content probably isn’t right. Read Seth Godin, 'Zero Cost Marketing'.

And to close, we come back to the blog post I quoted from at the beginning, Paul Graham’s essay on wealth (as distinct from cash). It’s an excellent essay if you need a rest from the sublime and ridiculous sequence of problem solving to run your own business. As he observes: “...wealth is what people want. If you plan to get rich by creating wealth, you have to know what people want.”