The shoe, as they say, is now on the proverbial “other foot.”
Over the years, I have founded a number of companies, mentored a plethora of startups and entrepreneurs, and even launched a nonprofit. Through all of those, I was never shy to give advice or demand accountability from my teams.
Well, I am now launching my first product-driven business and it has opened my eyes in a new way. Let’s just say that I have an entirely new appreciation for product professionals!
It has also helped me reframe some of the advice I’ve been dishing out over the years. I am chronicling my experience here to help other entrepreneurs understand the path in front of them. It begins with a look at the pre-launch phase of product development.
Called Journal My Health, this app traces its roots back 20-years to a car accident and my journey with chronic pain ever since. At the time, I was buried by the mountain of information, appointments, tests, medications, treatments, and more that were a byproduct of this injury.
I had briefly flirted with the idea of developing a mobile app but put it on the back burner because of other priorities. Now, 12-years later (when the iPhone debuted), the opportunity to develop the app presented itself again and I’m seizing it.
My vision is for an easy-to-use app that a person can use to chronicle their own medical issue and that also draws in environmental factors. It will help make sense of all the inputs relative to one’s health and provide physicians with a clear, unified view into a patient’s experience. It is the logical extension of today’s emphasis on remote health and wearables.
I have made the decision to incubate the business at Chariot Solutions along with other ideas rather than build it as a separate side project for now.
Before we launched our product into beta, the Chariot team helped rope my thinking and timeline back in a bit. They reminded me that it was important to first ensure an idea is actually a viable business, and then led me through the three steps to do just that.
1. Market Assessment
To begin, we took a hard look at the landscape to verify there is a need for this product and that there are no viable competitors. After all, I might have access to an incredible team of developers but what is the point in investing in the product and business if it’s an overcrowded space?
Working with a Chariot product designer, we scoped out a “tour” for me to speak with potential users and stakeholders. Surprisingly, we found there was no clear leader in the space despite the sector having grown over time. We also gained valuable insight into how people might use the product and which first features would be critical to adoption.
Importantly, we also narrowed down our first cohort to identify an initial target market or entry point for the app: COVID Long Haulers. This provides an opportunity to help a specific community of patients and also deliver value into an emerging set of medical conditions and experiences.
2. Design Architecture
With this information firmly in hand, we moved into the next pre-launch phase. This involved matching our research findings with specific feedback and insights from patients and doctors. The goal was to map out an experience within the app for users.
This design architecture was exciting, but also challenging. It’s important not to allow bloat in the process and to remain focused on delivering a streamlined experience that helps walk people through the app to arrive at a meaningful outcome.
At one point, we even went back and tested our initial design workflow with early research participants to make sure it matched with their expectations. With a completed architecture in hand, we now had a set of designs and common language to inform the development phase.
3. Product Development
This was a new, critical stage for me. I’d never served as a product manager before, but it is my job to translate the information I was gathering from market research for the development team so they could build the actual product.
I’ll admit that – as someone who does not code – the development phase is a bit of a black box. I was relying on the engineers to guide me in determining which ideas and features should remain in the development plan while discarding those that were not essential or ran afoul of our time and labor constraints.
It was painful to realize that not everything would make it into the first evolution of the product. But having a stripped-down set of parameters as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was critical to get us to market in a timely way without enormous investments that would diminish our precious resources.
Having that product road map and design architecture proved instrumental in framing the MVP and keeping us on task. It helped us remain focused when we found things like certain features that would negatively impair other aspects of the app or had to adjust features to ensure a consistent look-and-feel across various devices.
A New Appreciation
Overall, this has been an incredible growth experience for me. Despite all my past endeavors, it was obvious that I still have a lot to learn and I was quickly humbled by the process.
I was also blown away by the different feel of it all. The weight of the decision-making around direction and features, and the emotional reaction to being rejected by the Apple Store initially. Or the dread of reading feedback from those initial beta users.
It’s much easier to be the one dispensing advice or holding stakeholders accountable. Being the client is an entirely new ball game!
For that reason, I am incredibly grateful for the team at Chariot. I would like to take this opportunity to express a heartfelt thank you to my colleagues. I gained a much deeper appreciation for their level of skill and knowledge throughout this process. And I learned to value their role in being an advocate, having my best interests as the client at heart, and helping guide me in difficult decisions that will significantly impact my end product.
Today, my product is just now launching out of beta and is available for download by iOS users here. I’d love to hear what you think.
Stay tuned for my next piece on this journey. We’ll explore what happens at launch and how to keep your sanity and focus as you plot a path to scale.