Stand with


Newsletter sent on Wednesday, Jun 29, 2022

One thing that’s very common for many product development people, especially with a strong engineering background, is underestimating the power of early user and customer feedback when building a new product. Early feedback is not an option, it’s essential, and you can barely make a useful thing, leave alone a commercially successful something, without it.

Let’s do a small thought experiment. Imagine yourself being a co-founder of a startup with a mission of making the world’s best swings for kids. What should you do before going to the garage and building a physical thing? Think about this for a moment before reading further.





  • Answer “research and pick the best tools and materials” gives you 0 points.

  • Answer “draw a sketch” gives you 0 points.

  • Any other answer that involves activities from the solution space gives you 0 points.

Why? Because before moving to the solution space, you must do some work in the problem space. It’s fascinating how easy it is to miss this step. My way of dealing with this is constantly repeating the mantra: “solution” only makes sense as in “solution to a problem”. And, if you think that swings don’t solve any problems, you have never seen a bored kid.

So, how do you navigate the problem space? While most engineers feel entirely at home in the solution space, they are often quickly lost in the problem space because they forget to ask directions from those who are at home in the problem space – users and potential customers. Therefore…

  • Answer “going out to any school, kindergarten or any other organisation that deals with kids and interviewing them” gives you 10 points.

  • Answer: “doing a desk research on parent’s forums looking for success and failure stories of buying and using swings” gives you 10 points.

  • Answer “asking your neighbours with kids” gives you 10 points.

  • Answer “going to the local playground and chatting with some parents” gives you 10 points.

  • In fact, any other answer that helps to navigate and find a sweet spot in the problem space gives you 10 points.

Those activities that will lead to a better understanding of the problem, the status quo, and your potential customers’ needs and expectations. They will guide you and your team to a much better initial guess about the solution you want to make. Moreover, if the initial release doesn’t get enough traction, it will give you a solid safety net that will let you start again someplace other than from scratch, which happens like in 95% of cases.

Back to the swing startup. I haven’t done much research, but I can fully imagine that:

  • Families living in an apartment need a small swing for toddlers that can be easily and safely installed and stored without taking up too much space;
  • Families in townhouses with a small garden want something they want to use indoors for toddlers and kids 3-5 during the winter and outdoors during the summer;
  • Countryside families likely want a large swing with enough features to keep a few kids of different age busy, yet safe enough to let them play unsupervised and can remain outside for a few rainy winters;
  • Kindergartens have similar requirements, as the countryside families, but even for free trial they will only consider something passed a few mandatory certifications.
  • Schools have similar requirements as kindergartens, but the age and weight category is different, and they desperately need something that will work for kids with a certain kind of disability.
  • And so on.

I could easily pull this list out of thin air because, as a father, I’ve been to many playgrounds. However, I would never accept this as truth without going out and validating it with more people. The impact of wrong assumptions at this stage is too high. Just imagining working on a concept and realising a few months in that the construction must be twice as small to land well with a specific customer segment, but making it smaller is impossible because that compromises stability, makes me shrug.

The key to avoiding this is to have a structured conversation and look for patterns while iterating between going breadth-first and depth-firth without going too deep. Soon enough, you will see that requirements and expectations divide the space into areas, and most of your users rarely move between them. Moreover, a solution that works perfectly for people from one place will make little sense for those mainly residing in another.

Users and customers are experts on the problem; ask them for directions. Even if you think you know the way. If nobody is around to give you those directions, maybe you’re not looking good enough. It may also be that the space is empty, and the solution that you may come up with solves a purely theoretical problem and will interest only fellow engineers but will never find a product-market fit. If you do get directions, value them! Making friends with the inhabitants of the problem space gives you the superpower to create laser-focused engineering priorities and requirements, which open the door to short iteration, fast feedback, engaged early adopters and all other things so crucial to innovation success.

Cheers, Mike

Share on Twitter | Browse archive

Find this useful? I send out a short email every couple of weeks to help innovation-minded product and tech executives, directors and business owners to deliver more user value faster and with less risk. Join the evergrowing club of my subscribers.

✅ Subscribed! ✅
Words of wisdom are coming your way.

| Absolute Value |

Hi! I'm Mike Kotsur, a software consultant deeply passionate about technology and innovation. During the last decade I've helped many startups, innovation labs and product incubators to validate and develop business ideas from scratch into well-founded software systems valued by users and customers.

I can help you with your next innovative software project!

Schedule a free video call to discus a project, follow me on LinkedIn or subscibe to my bi-weekly newsletter to stay in touch.