Defining and Communicating Product Strategy for Startups

Prototypes for product discovery

A prototype is a preliminary model of something, usually used for testing and development. Auto manufacturers hand-build prototypes of new cars, for example. It’s expensive and time-consuming, but less expensive than mass production of a flop.

Prototypes have a similar role in software development. They help reduce the chance of spending time and money on a dead end product.

The startup graveyard is filled with companies that spent their time and money on a product that no one wanted or needed. Using a prototype to get user feedback is a relatively low cost and low risk way to test the market before committing development resources.

Prototypes also help teams stay on the same page. Once product discovery is done, a prototype is a powerful tool to clarify and communicate to the engineers and to other stakeholders in the organization what needs to be built.

Product strategy

Marty Cagan is the world’s foremost consultant on technology product management. He’s worked with hundreds of companies, and has found that there are things almost every company struggles with.

One common struggle is a shared understanding of product strategy - the product “vision.”

Sometimes the product vision is fragmented. Each stakeholder has a different view about how the product should evolve. The fragmentation is usually hard for product leaders to see, because each person assumes that others shared their worldview.

It was only when decisions needed to be made about product priorities and roadmap that different perspectives emerged and caused problems.

Other times the problem is the lack of true vision, with stakeholders focused on today’s customers needs and the next feature in the queue. As the company becomes increasingly focused they lose the sense of larger market dynamics and can miss emerging needs, technologies, and competitors.

The visiontype

A visiontype is a tool that helps clarify and communicate a product vision, providing a north star for the team to pursue and a tool that educates and excites investors.

It’s not a prototype, exactly. It looks farther forward into the future, and includes storyboards and concept maps in addition to product design.

It uses real world data to describes a product’s idealized future without getting bogged down in specifications or details.

As Mike Aurelio described in his recent post, a strategic prototype is a way to “demonstrate big concepts in a realistic way.” Its goal is to model a valuable, engaging future product experience by combining innovation with research, and feedback.

Inspire internal teams – and investors.

Done well, the visiontype becomes a north star that a company can develop a product strategy around. It enables teams with different communication styles and different perspectives — such as engineering, product management, and executives — to share a common view.

It creates a mission that inspires internal stakeholders, and also helps inspire investors.

Venture capital is risky. The unsecured investment will be completely lost if the business fails. When investing, a VC will look to reduce risk as much as possible.

They look at intrinsic risks, such as a team’s ability to execute. But they also look at market factors such as market timing, business model, market adoption, and market size.

To compete for investment dollars, it’s important to understand and speak to these risks crisply and completely. A visiontype is the most effective way to do this.

Armed with a visiontype, a product leader can clearly communicate how the product will continue to deliver value into the future, and to whom. By reducing uncertainty, it can accelerates the timing and amount of investment.

Proven in the market

DesignMap has helped dozens of companies build visiontypes that have supported investment rounds. Most recently was MetaCX, a customer success SaaS platform that raised $14M after building a comprehensive visiontype with DesignMap.

If you are struggling to create and communicate a product strategy that looks three to five years in the future, a visiontype can be a powerful tool. Get in touch with DesignMap to see how we can help.