When you have a highly innovative design team like we do at Quark, coming up with good ideas is never a problem, deciding on which ones to pursue and in what order can be!
After perusing the net looking for a strategy or scoring system we could use to vet new ideas, I came up quite short. There were some great articles, including one by Eric Ries at Lessons Learned, that discussed how to efficiently and cost-effectively assess the market validity of a product and features once you had an idea selected. However, I didn’t find much on how a young, lean startup should vet new product ideas to make an initial selection as to which one to pursue. Sure, there are lots of books on product development, Stage Gates, etc…, but most of these are geared toward larger organizations. For us, we needed a quick, easy way to rank our ideas – these are the five criteria we came up with:
- Development Costs – Thumb-in-the-wind, how much will it cost for us to develop this product idea? Cheap scores high, expensive scores low.
- Intellectual Property – does the idea inherently have intellectual property (IP) in it so that it provides a barrier to entry for future competitors and can’t be knocked-off easily by others? Strong IP scores high, weak or no IP scores low.
- Existing vs. New Market – Steve Blank highlights this issue very well. Selling a new product into an existing market is always easier/faster/cheaper than selling a new product into a NEW market (new products into new markets require a lot of customer educating!). Existing market scores high, new market scores low.
- Existing vs. New Customers – pretty simple, can we sell the new idea to existing customers (and get to $ that much faster!) rather than having to find new customers for the new product? Existing customer base scores high, new customers scores low.
- Lean Operation – is it a product that we can launch with a lean team and low overhead or does it require extensive overhead to manufacture, sell, distribute, etc? Lean scores high, high overhead scores low.
We score new ideas against these factors and can quickly decide which one to pursue next. Of course, one major final deciding factor is fun, because if the product isn’t fun to develop why would you even bother?
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