Mar 12

Productizing Your Idea

In their raw form, few ideas can make money. That is to say, an idea typically requires a lot of supporting functionality to make it attractive enough to people to want to use it, let alone pay for it. This process of taking an idea and turning it into a business starts with productization, aka conceptualization. This is the highly skilled process of building out an idea to achieve, in phase 1, the minimum viable product.

From our experience, this is the first of the three Achilles heels the startup experiences.The second two, which will not be covered in this blog, are strategic marketing activities (such as defining a viable sustainable business and go-to-market) and strategic sales (how to sell the product/service).

Let’s examine the productization process from a real world experience:

A number of years back I joined a startup that was building the world’s first commercially available computer that was designed solely to be a network server. In order to accommodate the large 5Mb* Winchester hard drives (what a beast…weighing in at about 10 to 15 pounds), the company had to design and build its own computer chassis and case.

One day, one of the co-founder siblings decided to edit a drawing of a chassis (using AutoCAD 1.x) and then accidently saved his edits on top of another version of the drawing. Turns out this other version was the final version one of the other brothers had spent weeks working on.

While waiting in the emergency room for their injuries to be taken care of, due to the altercation that ensued, the brothers decided to invest in some software to prevent this from happening again, lest they kill each other. It turned out that the only systems available were proprietary solutions in the domain of giants like McDonald Douglass, Boeing, etc., that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So the idea was born. That is to say, they decide to build software to manage drawings and their revisions and sell the software to users of CAD (computer aided design) applications. Sounds simple enough, but they found in order to build something people would pay for they had to deal with related issues. Such as providing a database for meta data; to provide a title for drawings to address the 8 characters filename limitation of DOS; date drawing was created; name of the author; what project the drawing was related to, etc. They had to make the database searchable. They had to address version numbering and provide unique filenames and on and on.

We didn’t realize it back then, but we were productizing the idea. But, because we didn’t really know what we were doing, we did it poorly. We built what we wanted and not what the customer wanted. It didn’t occur to us to approach early adopters and build an MVP for THEM. We also didn’t realize we needed a different product for the mainstream market. Unfortunately our competition did…that’s a whole other story. We also learned how quickly other people catch on and that every idea has a very short shelf life in terms of having the advantage of being first to market.

If you’re a startup with an idea you have to be aware that you have to go through the productization process, and for most of us mere mortals, it’s almost impossible to do it alone. You really need to have a small team to help you. It’s also very important to go through the problem and solution process described in our other blogs, to validate what you want to do and how you need to do it.

*5Mb is not a typo, I did say “a number of years ago”…late 80s actually.


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