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How to define product roadmap for an early stage start-up?

While running my first startup, I was always clueless when my investor asked me to send the product roadmap. And I would simply list all possible features, with no structure whatsoever.

Overtime, working at and for multiple start-ups, I have come to realize the importance of a product roadmap and have created an effective framework one can follow to define it.

Why do you need a product roadmap?

While running the start-up, it’s crucial to have a clear direction of how you want your product to shape up overtime. The product roadmap brings all the stakeholders on the same page and helps get clarity on the direction of the company.

Whenever I look at the product, my first task is to make a 6 month product roadmap and organise it under two pods.

  1. Zero to One — the journey of releasing or launching the product/feature and getting it to stability

  2. Iterative Growth Funnels — the journey of growing the product/feature, beyond the stable version

Why is it imp to have two pods in an early stage start-up?

It is illogical for one person to work on both releasing a product and growing it at the same time. These 2 phases require a different product mindset and thus a different approach.

Having a zero-one pod in an early stage start-up is very critical. To go from zero to one is to conjure something into existence from the dark void of oblivion. Zero to one features are the features which can create huge defensibility for your business. This is the essence of true innovation A very nice example quoted in the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel is — If you have a typewriter and build 100, you have made horizontal progress. If you have a typewriter and make a word processor, you have made vertical progress. The zero to one progress could be made by launching new features or creating new user experiences that change the course of how users used to interact with a product before.

A different pod of product growth is necessary for optimisations and improving the existing funnels. This is relatively easy as here, you are mostly copying things that have worked in the past. Job of this person is to keep doing A/B experiments (launching multiple versions of same feature) on different funnels and try reducing the drop offs while increasing the CTRs (Click through rates)of different sections on the platform. This pod is more like a hygiene check on the product KPIs. It requires a constant effort on performing various experiments. It’s important to have some tasks in your roadmap which are aligned to the maintenance of the features that you are building.

For eg, for one of the start-ups I was consulting, my key focus for the first 3 months was to figure out how to retain the users on day 1.

Once I had gained enough insights, I initiated two zero to one features. The entire company’s focus was aligned around fulfilling these features. The result was surprising. We saw a 53.4% increase in the D1 retention. At that moment, the entire company realised the power of data, user feedback and zero to one calling. While a different pod around product growth worked on improving basic funnels, like onboarding funnel, Land to home page to playing a music file funnel etc,

A simple framework to follow for this is:

  1. Decide a funnel you wish to improve for this week

  2. Decide a reasonable target

  3. Define 3 experiments you will do to improve the funnel.

Now, the question is how to think of such features?


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