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  • Writer's pictureAdam Ramm

3 common product mistakes startups make

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

Co-written by Haleh Yazdi

So you turned your brilliant idea into a startup? Congratulations on taking the leap! Now that you've got your company off the ground, what’s next?

Running a successful startup requires dedication, effort, and a solid strategy for addressing problems that can arise. Involve Design is on a mission to help startups like yours with their product design and strategy process. We get involved in understanding the problems your startup faces and creating tailored solutions that WORK.

After helping numerous startups on their product design process, we've learned a thing or fifty in the process. Here we share our three biggest takeaways on common mistakes that startups make when designing new products. We teach you how to avoid them.

1. Choosing looks over function

Pretty products don't always translate into successful products. One of the biggest mistakes we've seen startups make is choosing looks over function. Sure elegant and modern designs can be enticing- who doesn't love a beautiful Rolex or Warhol? However, what makes a product successful is whether or not it meets your customers' needs. How your customers feel about your product is ultimately more important than how it looks. If your customers feel frustrated or misled by your product, they won't care how much time and energy you put into making it visually appealing.

We recently encountered this common startup mistake with an e-commerce business specializing in selling medical grade products. Despite being in a lucrative market, they faced a high volume of product-related customer inquiries, low sales, and confusion on orders. One problem we identified was that their sleek, minimalist website showcased products without crucial information about the products' medical grades and quality specifications. We helped our client balance aesthetics and function more effectively by highlighting key information upfront and adding order bundling/tracking. These changes enhanced the purchase experience, driving efficient order completion, reducing customer service and increasing customer satisfaction.

2. Designing from a business perspective instead of a customer perspective

Another common startup mistake is overruling customer goals for business or personal reasons. We see this a lot in our work with tech startups where certain features fail because there's a disconnect between the features the startup values versus what its customers value.

For example: suppose your business-to-consumer app uses complex security and privacy protection but your target users aren't very technically inclined. In that case, a user is unlikely to care about how clever or innovative the solution is. They're looking to feel reassured that you're protecting them as an individual. The more complex and costly a feature is to develop, the more important it is to validate whether your customers need it.

We recommend: considering two questions before deciding to build any feature:

  1. What value does this feature hold for my customers, and how do I know it solves their problems?

  2. IF you're confident in your answer to #1: How can I explain the feature's value in a language that my average customer can understand?

3. Expecting too much too soon

We know that startups operate on a fast-paced schedule. There is a lot of pressure to deliver a successful product to investors and stakeholders with little time for the in-depth research large companies have the luxury to do. Moving too quickly through the process without varying iterations and user research can lead to rushed products with mediocre value. Design is a messy and complex process, but each step defines and advances a user-centered strategy that fits the product.

In addition, rushing the design process (or no design process at all) in favor of faster and more frequent releases is a classic example of good intentions gone wrong. It often does the opposite of its intent; instead of reducing the time and money spent on ineffective solutions, it multiplies it.

Alternatively, spending the time necessary to understand your customers can significantly mitigate risk, reduce cost in development, and accelerate product releases that remain aligned with your core product objectives.

We recommend:

  1. Investing early in developing a clear UX strategy.

  2. Frequently communicating with your cross-functional teams, and most importantly.

  3. Practicing your patience.

To re-cap:

  1. Design is much more than pretty websites and apps. If your product's visual designs aren't grounded in a solid understanding of your customers and their needs, customers are unlikely to understand why they should use your product.

  2. Design is an essential part of a startup's decision-making process. The more decisions you make based on business or personal reasons, the larger the gap between what you're building and what customers want will get, and the harder it will be to recover.

  3. Sometimes, going slower at the start makes you go faster overall. Design is a messy and complex process, but each step serves a purpose, and overall, it accelerates your progress on the business results that matter.

If you take one thing from this article, we hope it's this:

Startups that undervalue user design always pay for it, even though it's one of the most valuable tool you can use to avoid the #1 reason startups fail: building something the market didn't need (or understand)1.

A little about us

We're Involve, a human-centered company. We educate our clients on adopting an experimentation mindset, reliably interpreting customer behaviors, and designing customer experiences that align customer needs with a business' goals. Consider us your design partner, product coach, and trusted advisers.

We'll help you accelerate your business growth using techniques like customer journeys, storyboarding, cognitive & behavioral mapping, product strategy, user stories, and digital design solutions. Our diverse set of skills will save you time and money by bringing the magic that most other startups don't have.

If you're worried about making some of the mistakes above or are interested in learning more, let's talk! It's free, and we're friendly people, we promise!

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