This is part 4 of my 12-part Mom-to-Mom Series for Beyond Mom: Building Your Own Business. For the past five years, I’ve been planning, launching and growing my business, UrbanSitter. At times it has felt like my fourth child— the ups and downs, triumphs, and disappointments of entrepreneurship are quite similar to the emotional roller coaster of parenting. And similar to being a mom, I can’t imagine my life any other way.
Like most entrepreneurs I have dozens of ideas for how I’d like to see my business evolve. The UrbanSitter product in my head is always five versions ahead of the current one. When you are just starting your business, one of the toughest things can be deciding what to build first and how much is enough for an initial launch.
Get Your Product Out There
One of the traits that I see in many entrepreneurs is a reluctance to release a product before it is ‘perfect.’ In my experience, it is important to release your first product as soon as you have a minimum viable product (MVP), because it will allow you to start gathering user feedback as quickly as possible. When we started UrbanSitter, we knew that we wanted the product to help parents find, book, and pay babysitters. Within each of those areas we had envisioned additional functionality, but we decided to prioritize by addressing the largest pain point for parents and sitters first—finding trusted childcare. This meant launching with a very basic search product that showed parent users babysitters who were connected to them through Facebook. Parents and sitters began to use our basic product, and as we expected, parents used the connection information to hire babysitters who had previously babysat for their friends.
The next thing we learned was unexpected. We predicted that if an original preferred sitter was busy, a parent would likely book a sitter used by their friends but what data showed was that parents booked sitters who were friends with their original sitter. We used our findings to prioritize a product feature that allowed sitters to refer other babysitter friends to a babysitting job if the sitter was unable to accept the parent’s booking request. Had we waited to launch our product until our initial vision was developed, we would have missed a key learning.
Test Before You Build
Whether it’s the programmer who is coding your baby sleep app or the designer who is working on version 7 of your sippy cup, I’m guessing you—as a small business owner—are resource constrained. When it comes to your product, I encourage you to try things manually before you invest in the time to build the end product.
We decided to test an on-demand, Uber of babysitting product at UrbanSitter without actually building it. Rather than build the entire automated end-to-end product, we just created the form that the parent could complete to describe their immediate need. When the form was submitted a person on our team would work on filling the request using a variety of non-connected tools that we already had in place. To the parent, the experience was seamless (they completed a form, they were notified that a sitter was on her way) however on our end it required patching together various existing functionality and process to get the best results. In doing a little extra work on the backend we made certain discoveries and gained user feedback, allowing us to invest our resources in the final product that we knew was viable.
React to Problems & Opportunities, Not Feature Requests
As I’ve mentioned, gathering user feedback and data about your product is key for future iterations and making sure that you are focused on the right things, but there’s a fine line. Beware of the trap of reacting to feature requests from users, friends, investors and moms you meet at the park. People love an entrepreneur’s enthusiasm about their business and with that comes an onslaught of ideas on improving your product.
It’s easy to get distracted and to want to pursue each idea that’s thrown your way, but it’s important to examine qualitative feedback by asking yourself, “What is the larger problem or opportunity that is being identified here?” Often times people’s suggestions for your product indicate bigger questions around your product’s value in the market, so pay attention but just don’t lose your focus.
Whether you are developing the latest baby sleep monitoring app or creating a space age spill-proof sippy cup, these minimum viable product tips will work for you:
-Keep it simple
-Focus on the solutions to the user’s biggest pain points first
-Launch it…even if the version in your head is 50x better
-Embrace and examine user feedback
Keep these tips in mind and remember that in entrepreneurship (and in life) when you aim for perfection, you’ll quickly discover it’s a moving target!
Next month I’m excited to report on the types of investment options that exist for entrepreneurs to fund their business.
For more business advice from UrbanSitter: