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New Product Development Strategy

Tony Scherba
October 20, 2015

TLDR: When developing a new digital product or app the product development strategy should be simple, focus on your minimum loveable product (MLP).

Apple announced in June that over 100 billion apps had been downloaded from the app store since its inception. Currently, somewhere around 1.5 million are available for Apple users, second in availability to Android users who enjoy 1.6 million options.  In May 2015, the number of applications submitted for release to the App Store surpassed 40,000 for the first time. Leading app categories based on terms of availability are gaming, followed (distantly) by business apps, education apps, lifestyle apps and entertainment apps.

It’s official. The app industry is bigger than Hollywood.

Not all movies are hits, not all apps are hits either; we’re living in a sea of zombie apps. From all of this data we understand that just because apps are there, it doesn’t mean they are successful. Building great products is not easy, so with all of the noise and clutter bouncing around in Google Play and the App Store, what makes for a great new product development strategy?

Have a Great Goal, Not Just Great Features

Defining a product goal isn’t about chasing an idea, but solving a problem, and furthermore, a worthwhile one. Seek out pain points -- every business vertical has them. Think Linkedin – social networking concept adapted to the business industry. They solve the pain of shuffling around business cards and losing important business connections. Think Airbnb – a popular hotel search and booking concept adapted to a new bed and breakfast format. Airbnb solved the problem of expensive, overbooked hotel rooms and vacant couches and rooms, sitting unused. Think Encompass -- EKM meter monitoring adapted to allow consumers to better understand their own gas, water and electricity consumption. The problem Encompass solves is getting clear and understandable usage data from your meters is difficult, the data needs to be able to be managed and organized in a well designed fashion.

The product should be quick, integrative, have great UX (user experience), and most importantly, solve a worthwhile problem.

Dump Distractions and Focus on Your MLP

Look around you and understand what makes good products. It’s almost never just an amazing set of features, but the perfect combination of a limited set of features. When designing a new product, it’s easy to let early customer feedback take you in multiple directions, or get caught up in new ideas that require more features. These new features, unless directly related to the pain that you are solving for should not be included in the first version of a product. In the software industry, when this gets out of hand, we call it bloatware.

Keep focus on the MLP (Minimum Loveable Product). An MLP is guided by the product’s main goal -- to build not only a viable solution to the identified problem, but a loveable one. In the first version of the product it’s important to sell to one specific use case (your niche) then grow from there. Adding just a few more features because one potential customer said it would be cool is a slippery slope that ends up in extended timelines and rising product development costs.

The hardest part of crafting a good product development strategy is letting great ideas go.

Building a great product requires laser focus on your problem and pain points, your solution and your MLP. These all tie together and as the concept comes to life they will require a level of malleability. Through iterations of the product it will become apparent the best way to address the problem being solved. Some features that everybody thought were great at the beginning will prove to not solve the problem properly. These will need to be killed and replaced if necessary.

This is not easy, nobody wants to lose a feature they fought hard, conceptualizing, designing and building but if teams are able to accept this must happen they are far better off. Be open to it. Rigidity negates the purpose of rapid prototyping -- in the end the product is being built to solve the customer’s problem.

Success in the mobile app world relies on the ability to be concise. In order to build something astounding, refine your goal. Dump out any features that aren’t absolutely essential to the benefit of the user experience. Continuously ask if this feature is critical to the success of the product. If the answer is no, get rid of it, and come back to your goals.

Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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