Pre-user Product Research

One of the golden rules in product is to always listen to your users. However, if you are building something brand new, you may not have users yet! You may not even have a product to show anyone. So, what do you do when you have no users and need guidance on building the very first version of a product? It can be hard to make decisions when you have very few data points.

Here are some strategies for making smart decisions without going down a road that you’ll just have to course correct later.

  1. Prototype. This can be as easy as putting together powerpoint slides of what your product might look like. This will help you validate the idea without spending time building something.
  2. When building, keep it as simple as possible. Don’t make too many UI tweaks, even if things seem awkward. Optimize for getting a simple version in front of a limited number of people, so you can decide what tweaks are more important rather than iterating endlessly.
  3. Recognize your own biases. This can be hard. Everyone has preferences about how things should look and work, and there are certainly some best practices. Hold off on making arbitrary decisions (e.g. “This button should be a different blue”) until you get real data on what matters and what doesn’t. Then you can prioritize accordingly.
  4. Find users anyway. Talk to them even if you have nothing to show them. It’s important to validate that there is a real problem that you can solve before making something that no one wants.

At the end of the day, when building version 1, the most important thing is to get a simple version that solves the core problem in front of users as quickly as possible. Optimizing for this may mean that your first version is nowhere close to the vision for a first full release. That’s ok! Showing something ugly to some small number of users is the best way to build some beautiful AND useful.
Happy building!


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