Where Product Ideas Come From

We tend to think of inventors and entrepreneurs as geniuses who have sudden flashes of insight and fully formed ideas spring from their brains.

The sad truth is that great ideas are not coming out of the blue. Thomas Edison said that invention was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. A lot of work, environment, life and professional experience required to come up with a good product or product feature idea. So, if you want to come up with an idea and turn it into the groundbreaking product or game changer feature, the last thing that you need to do is to seat in front of your laptop and think. What you need is an understanding of potential customers needs, behaviour and environment. In other words, the way people behave now, why they behave this way and how it can be improved in an acceptable way.

The two biggest question here is where ideas come from and how to filter them to find the best. There are a lot of ideas that may come from company customers and from everyone who involved in product development or just wants to help. Even if we think that all of them are great, we cannot try and test them all. So we have to filter and find the best.

In this post, we are going to talk about ideas, where they should come from and where they should not, but often do.

Where ideas should come from

Let’s start with the simple statement — we’re building products that solve our customer’s problems. Not ours, not our investors, mentors, friends, parents. We’re making a product for someone who is experiencing the problem frequently. That is the reason why we, as startup founders, in most cases start companies — to solve a problem that someone has. Maybe, we have the very same problem too. It will help us to make the product better in many ways. But for sure we cannot rely only on our experience. In order to generate better ideas and build a best-in-class product, we have to talk to as many potential and actual customers as we can.

Good ideas start with understanding. Users behaviour understanding, problem understanding, and of course your team capability understanding. Good ideas come from your ability to take that understanding and turn it into features that affect user behaviour in a predictable and measurable way.

In reality, many product and feature ideas come from everywhere else but customers. “Users don’t know what they want,” people say to prove why we shouldn’t be listening to users. That’s unfortunate. In fact, we’re sure listening to everybody else.

Where ideas usually come from

For some reason, ideas often come from people who are not customers and not involved in customer development and support. Startup founders and CEOs, employees, investors, friends, whoever but customers.

I’m not saying that we should not be listening at all to those people. It’s not that people have bad ideas. The problem is that those people are probably not your customers. It means that their ideas based on theories, feelings, agendas, but not on problem experiencing. But I still suggest to listen to those ideas, understand them, filter and use to ask your customers the right questions.

Startup founders usually have an incredibly strong vision for what features company should be building and how the product should look like. From being a solution for a market problem, the startup can go very fast to be a founder’s ideas playground. It’s actually very hard to avoid. That’s why in startups people say “Don’t fall in love with the solution, fall in love with the problem.”

Ideas may also come from startup’s investors and mentors. It’s hard to say no to someone who “been there, made it” or to someone who gives you a lot of money. The problem is that even smartest and most experienced people can have a failure. And what is more important, they are probably not your customers.

It happens all the time in bigger companies. Company CEO and top managers may have a lot of ideas for products and features. “CEO wants” is so common that has an acronym: the HiPPO, highest paid person’s opinion.

Also, many ideas come from coworkers, teammates, and employees who not involved in product development or customers success. The problem is the same — those people are not your customers.

In all those cases, people actually may be right and suggesting great ideas. But the only way we can use those ideas is by understanding them and converting into good questions for our customers.

Summary

It all starts with understanding. Great product and features ideas can be generated only if we deeply understand our customers. Their problems, their needs, their behaviour. Talk to your customers.