Engineering an exceptional product is challenging. But that isn’t your biggest problem: if your product isn’t solving the right problem, no amount of great engineering will fix it.
In this article we explore few of the ways high-growth brands were born. Unlike most guides that focus on sourcing “the winning product” for dropshipping, we’ll look at ways to ideate products that make an impact. Products that scale.
We’ll break down several items to look at in order to see if you have a winning product – and if you don’t, what questions you should ask yourself in order to notice problems and identify a real need.
1. Make customers’ lives easier
The most effective way to find a winning product is to look at the heart of what your customer is trying to accomplish and ease that process for them.
There’s a lot of innovative products with incredible tech behind them that flopped.
Google Glass could have been a very successful product – there was a lot of hype around its launch and many people were buzzing about it before it even hit the market. And then it failed. Why? Because it was awkward, it looked odd and nobody wanted to use it.
That wasn’t its biggest flaw though. The fundamental error in the creation of Google Glass was that it wasn’t solving anyone’s problem.
As a start-up looking to design the next best product, your goal is to solve a core issue in someone’s day – be it workflow or otherwise. The kind of problem so imperative for users to fix, that they are willing to spend more time (and money) to implement a new tool or use a new product.
Google Glass tried to take the smartphone experience to a different level but ultimately, they weren’t solving an essential problem for consumers. Nobody asked for a hands-free smartphone, regardless of aesthetics or cost. It might be an option for niche teams in healthcare for example, but for the daily user, the Google Glass wasn’t a functional or feasible option.
So how do you solve a pressing issue and identify real market needs in an environment that is extremely competitive but also saturated with various solutions?
Look at your daily workflow.
Your product needs to be something that people in your industry couldn’t – or wouldn’t want to – do their jobs without. Or, if your product isn’t applicable during your workday, be honest: is it solving an issue that you have been struggling with? By looking at your own daily struggles, you have first-hand insight into what you are trying to accomplish and what problems you are facing on a daily basis.
It's what started Dollar Shave Club. Founded by Michael Dubin and Mark Levine after both of them shared their frustrations with the cost of razor blades. it's now a global household name. With high prices for a disposable product, not even mentioning the ‘pink tax’, razor blades are one of the most expensive consumable in every household. This sparked the next questions – is there a way to provide consumers with razor blades in a more cost-effective and convenient way? What if they showed up to your door every month for $1 each?
Not only was the idea quite brilliant, but they also took ads to a different level (on a budget). The founders turned to Youtube to promote their business in a way that many of us (at the time, at least) would label as ‘unconventional’ to say the least. One of the founders stars in a hilarious video where it is very clear he speaks directly to people that were fed up with paying tens of dollars on a few blades that would end up in the bin soon after. Take a look at what 93 seconds of funny and on point looks like:
Starting with the title of their video and ending with probably one of the funniest “make it rain” scenes, the results speak for themselves: 30 million Youtube views and a whole lot of sales. And, in less than 5 years, the company was acquired for $1 billion. Cash.
All because of an idea directed to make customers’ lives easier. Once you’ve picked a problem to solve, take a look around – what is the competition like in that sector and how will you position yourself. You might have a unique angle on your potential client’s struggles that helps you address the issue in a new light and solve it in a way that competing solutions don’t. Hone your instincts and your idea and get it done!
2. Look at your own struggles
In 2008 eCommerce stores were just starting to emerge on a more notable scale, yet there was one item people couldn’t really get online: eyewear. Moreover, eyeglasses were quite expensive with very high markups. So Neil Blumenthal, founder of Warby Parker, decided to change that.
There was just one problem though: Blumenthal and his partners knew that people usually wanted to see the glasses before ordering them, trying them out and then placing an order. This might seem odd to us today, as we order everything online, from groceries to car parts and everything in between, but at the time, online commerce was still in its relatively early stages.
This prompted the founders to offer a “try before you buy” trial period (which they still offer to this day) – where customers would get to pick five pairs of frames to try out at home for free before deciding on which one to buy. It was a major win – whatever doubts customers had about online orders were swept away by the option of returning everything if nothing fit.
More so, Warby Parker focused on building relationships with these customers - to the point of the founders inviting potential customers to their home, since they didn’t have an office yet. Now, obviously, that’s not something you can do today, but if you think of personalized ways of engaging with customers, it will set you apart from competitors who are solely focused on the revenue line.
In the same realm of hyperpersonalized customer interactions, the initial idea of a platform like Cartloop goes back a few years. When Cartloop’s founder, Andrei Negrău, started his eCommerce business, he tried and tested every automation tool available – yet somehow, shoppers were still abandoning their carts at an increasing rate. Data was also missing – there was no obvious reason for which this was happening, so Andrei did something out of the box: he decided to personally text these customers and find out for himself what went wrong.
The initial idea of a platform like Cartloop goes back a few years. When Cartloop’s co-founder, Andrei Negrău, started his eCommerce business, he tried and tested every automation tool available – yet somehow, shoppers were still abandoning their carts at an increasing rate. Data was also missing – there was no obvious reason for which this was happening, so Andrei did something out of the box: he decided to personally text these customers and find out for himself what went wrong.
The results were unexpected. While there were some recurring reasons for which the customers had abandoned their purchase initially, after talking to a real person from the company that cared about what they had to say, the majority of shoppers returned to complete the purchase.
It was, as we like to say, a lightbulb moment.
Text marketing nowadays is mainly automated, and mainly one way. There is no point in offering your customer a discount code, if the reason he abandoned his cart was, for example – the fact that he couldn’t use his credit card. Following the acquisition of his eCommerce business, Andrei, alongside Lisa, decided to fill that gap and bring the human connection to text marketing.
And that is how Cartloop was born.
Some key points to follow:
- Identifying a problem that was a fundamental roadblock for your customers: having a 2-way communication process with brands
- Finding a product that is geared towards specific concerns customers have. In our case, it was payment options, shipping or product questions
- Offer a convenient solution that eliminates the issues that stand in the way of customers finalizing a purchase
3. Sourcing products from unconventional places
In one of our latest podcast episodes we were joined by Sam Mendelsohn from Sivana Spirit. We talked about how they took their brand from a small, local family business to a globally acclaimed brand, but also about the way they source their products.
“People will always be buying something. It’s just a matter of whether or not you meet the need in the best way possible, so they buy from you vs someone else.”
Consumers are also more and more interested in knowing where a product comes from and what its story is. All of Sivana’s products are fair trade. Apart from the United States, they find products in Nepal, Thailand, India, and occasionally, South America. Sam shared with us that oftentimes they find new vendors during their travels.
Not all local vendors are listed online. In fact, smaller, native businesses are more likely to not be available in any online directory. So traveling to local markets in various countries not only helps you source otherwise unavailable products, but it also gives you a chance to meet the vendors and build a personal network.
Finding fair trade and sustainable products can be time consuming – instead, you can also take advice from Joe Parenteau, Co-founder and CEO of Fable. A DTC brand, they make it easy for people to set a beautiful table at home. Their artisan-crafter dinnerware, including ceramics and flatware, is not only Instagram like, but also ethically crafted and sustainably made.
We talked to Joe in one of our podcast episodes about building a reliable supply chain of artisans across the world. While there are many ways to go about it, listening to this episode will give you a good idea of where you can start from.
When it comes to creating their dinnerware, they partner with artisans who commit to exceptional craftsmanship with the best materials, sustainable practices, and ethical employment. Their products are created in small batches, rather than the traditional bulk orders, in order to ensure quality standards are met. They, too, met the artisans in person, where they discussed the designs of the products, understood how the products are made and were able to narrow down their artisans to a top 10 list with which to move forward.
4. Talk to people. A lot of them
Sourcing products from niche marketplaces and local artisans around the world is an art in itself. It’s not all about the logistics of it though – deciding on what product to choose and figuring out that it will be a product that people are going to love and ultimately purchase, is just as challenging.
Fable did this quite well. Joe told us that they were adamant about talking to as many people as they could, right from the start, in order to ensure that there was indeed an acute need in the market for what they were trying to bring – beautiful dinnerware at a fair price.
They started by sending out a survey to friends and family and asked if it could be shared amongst each of their networks. It was a great idea as a starting point and provided some insight on the market needs, but it didn’t necessarily offer enough guidelines to develop a strategic direction for the future.
But then they did something that is out of the box and unconventional.
Joe and his co-founder turned to the general public. They picked a strategic area in Vancouver where all the home décor stores are located and started talking to people on the street and asking them if they’d be willing to give 5 minutes of their time to answer a few questions. The goal was to find out what made people’s dinnerware special, where they bought it from and what would make them buy it from somewhere else.
By the end of the day, Fable had talked to around 30 people. While it wasn’t a large pool of customers, they saw some recurring issues – the issues people complained about when it came to dinnerware were relatively the same. As such, it gave Fable a deeper understanding on what people cared about. This made it easier to decide what type of products they were going to sell, and how: how they were going to market their products and how they were going to tell a story that inspires.
Joe mentioned to us that people who enjoyed their tableware, spoke fondly about the history of the products they were using, how and where it was made and what made it special. Those stories were the ones that stayed with people and that’s what made it a winning product.
5. Profits VS Sustainability
- Low carbon footprint items.
- Recycled materials.
- Carbon offsetting.
- Selling products around a cause.
- Sustainably made items.
Five trending topics of concern in 2020.
And, surely for years to come as well.
Finding products that don’t hurt our planet doesn’t mean that you’ll hurt your bottom line. They are bringing benefits for both our planet, and the company executives with their eye on the revenue stream. More importantly, consumers are now actively asking for them. So much so, that a new term, Eco-commerce, has emerged that refers to products that don’t harm the environment during production, use or disposal.
To keep up with these consumer demands, more and more leading brands are jumping on board – Unilever has even warned it will sell off brands that do not contribute positively to society, in order to keep up with the company's sustainable business agenda. Unilever CEO, Alan Jope, mentioned that it was no longer enough for companies to sell goods, as consumers want to buy brands that have meaning and purpose too.
So if you’re now looking to enter a market with a new product, you’d be better off including Sustainability goals into your strategic agenda, when mapping out the long-term vision for your company.
This is especially true for home goods. We spend the largest part of our lives in our homes: it’s where we sleep, eat and build families. Naturally, we take greater care about the products we bring into our homes. A Nielsen survey concluded that 66% of its respondents would agree to pay more for a product that came from businesses committed to making a positive environmental impact.
So if you’re looking for an area to find a winning product, some of the drivers you need to look at are environment value, social impact, eco-friendly packaging, fair trade sourcing and even local community support.
6. Invent. Innovate. Iterate.
We’ve saved the best for the last. One of the common reasons why eCommerce businesses fail is because people believe that replicating what worked for a well-known brand will work for everyone else too.
While you can indeed build a business by replicating others, building a legacy brand that gets headlines involves a little bit of creativity and uniqueness.
But how do you ‘invent’ a unique product in a market that seems to have a solution for everything under the sun already?
It’s clear that we live in an era of great technological advances, where the impact on businesses and society is driven by changes in your customers’ way of thinking. How they make decisions and what they’re looking for is constantly changing – as is what they expect to see from businesses.
Companies that will be successful in developing a winning product will be those that will be able to see the world through the customers’ eyes and bridge the gap between them and the evolving needs of the market. As an example, some companies that stubbornly declined to embrace change and innovation resulted in once loved brands being shattered:
- Nokia chose to not address the increasing demands of customers for an Android device, thus losing all of its market share and barely surviving through an acquisition
- Blockbuster declined an offer by Netflix, and missed the streaming train
- The taxi industry chose to ignore focusing on customer experience, thus allowing companies like Uber or Lyft to offer more enticing alternatives
On the other side of the spectrum are companies who paved the way with innovative products.
Apple’s iPhone is proof that innovative products that gain market acceptance and traction will lead the way for other brands in the same industry. Once the iPhone was launched in 2007, it didn’t take long for other mobile phone companies to follow suit and develop their own versions of a smartphone with touch capabilities.
Nowadays, innovation comes from finding market gaps and differentiating through patents, materials or way of doing business. Purple is one such example. Their direct competitor, Tempur-Pedic, was in the lead with the invention of the memory foam. To stand out, Purple came out with a patent-protected hyper-elastic polymer grid technology that is now gaining giant market traction and is predicted to hit $1.3 billion in annual revenue in 2021. More so, they are growing at a much faster rate than their direct competitor, which is proof that market acceptance is a leading indicator of success and innovation.
So you’ve found your product idea. Now what?
We will go into more detail on this in a later post, but let’s look at some quick ways to ensure you keep moving forward.
People come up with new ideas every day. But it’s not enough. At this point, you’ve facing a real danger: paralysis by analysis. Too much research, planning and ideation often lead to no execution. The first step after finding your product idea is to validate it.
It’s what will make the difference between the success or failure of an eCommerce business. Now you can do this in many ways before making a significant financial commitment – even before an MVP:
- Talk to your friends and family – ask people closest to you about insights into your idea, whether they would use a product like this and most importantly, whether they would pay for it
- Survey people like crazy – online surveys and focus groups are a cost-effective way to gain initial information of a product-market fit and to give you a sense of direction for future product iterations
- Perform a market analysis – look around you, find your direct competitors, see how and what they’re doing and decide how you will be better and different
- Go the ‘pre-order’ route. Whether you decide on a Kickstarter campaign or ensuring you get enough orders before you start manufacturing the product, this is a sure way to validate interest from your community