Right Skills

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How to grow your product muscle

Dharmesh Raithatha

Chief Product Officer @ Forward Partners

Creating a successful startup involves, amongst other things, building a great product that people love. As a founder you should work hard to develop good product instincts. This will let you make better decisions and improve your chances of achieving product-market fit. Product teardowns are a great way to develop your product muscle so that you can make better decisions first-time round.

Key takeaways

  • All founders should spend time getting good at product design;
  • Use product teardowns to rapidly increase your product instincts;
  • Become a customer of any service that is relevant to your idea.

Why should you develop good product instincts?

As a founder with an idea one of your main tasks is to create a delightful product that will have your customers talking about it to all their friends. Sure, you could hire someone else to do this for you. However, no-one is going to care as much as you (it is your idea after all) and you will still be asked to make the final call on direction. If you are bootstrapping or have raised a small amount of money, developing your product muscle can also make a huge difference to your burn rate. Some people have an innate sense of what makes a good product and others don't. Either way, performing product teardowns are really useful in developing your product skills. This will also complement the insights you have gathered through customer interviews and observations.

Product teardowns

Whether your idea is a straight up ecommerce company, a marketplace or a subscription business, you should be able to find successful companies that have similar product dynamics (possibly in a different vertical or customer segment). Even if you are one of the rare few entrepreneurs that are doing something radically different, simply looking at products you love using with a critical eye can only be helpful. The goal of product teardowns are to identify the relevant products that inspire you the most (say 3-5) and then systematically pick apart how they have gone about achieving success across the different parts of the customer lifecycle.

Homepages and landing pages

Look at your chosen site's homepage and landing pages and see how they have communicated their value proposition. Some questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Is it immediately clear what they are offering and why they are unique?
  • What kind of imagery are they using?
  • What are the product's benefits?
  • What is their tone voice?
  • Is it consistent?
  • Have they used any animations to make the page more engaging?
  • Does it tap into an emotion that goes beyond just describing what they do?
  • Is it obvious what to do next in the product?
  • Does it encourage you to take the next step?

Duolingo's homepage teardown

Duolingo's great homepage

Social proof

Social proof is a huge part of persuading people to use your product so looking at how other companies have done this can be a great inspiration for different tests you can do and for making a decent first choice that converts well. Transferwise is all about social proof and trust

From a marketing angle you should also look at how they might be bringing in users to the site or app in the first place, especially in terms of what channels they seem to be using.

The core product experience

The goal of any ecommerce product is to move a customer towards making a purchase. This may happen in the first few visits for e-commerce stores or may take much longer as they engage with your product and then have an actual need to buy what you are offering. Remember, for marketplaces you will need to think about this from both the supply and the demand sides.

  • Print out the whole site or app flow so you can see all the steps a user has to take to get towards a purchase.
  • Look for patterns in similar type companies to see if your product would be better off sticking to conventions rather than trying something new in terms of user experience.
  • Where products are similar look at how they have differentiated themselves for their audience and vertical.
  • Look at how they handle error cases.

For example Airbnb, Onefinestay and Appearhere are all successful property marketplaces and have similar user flows even though their brands are very different.


Product pages

For ecommerce stores look at how products are presented. Observe what information goes along with a product to help people understand whether to make a purchase or not. Again, imagery and tone of voice can make a big difference to whether you have a great product page or not. Look at how they display their delivery options and how they present their reviews.

Barkshop's fun product page 

Forms and communication

For some products, customers need to provide information in order to communicate what they want or to use the service. Forms; and, more recently, chat style interfaces, are the main ways that users can do this. Getting them right can greatly reduce friction. Pay attention to how good forms reward you for completing steps and gently notify you when there are errors.

Mailchimp's great signup form

Experience the full end to end service

All ecommerce companies provide a service so spend some time (and cash) experiencing it. Order something, return it or ask them a question. Get a feel for what good service looks like (or doesn't). I work a lot on marketplaces so I try to use every marketplace as much as possible in my daily life. From booking and hosting on airbnb to borrowing a dog with borrowmydoggy. You can rapidly build up real insights on ways that you can delight your customers and improve on other offerings.

Don't copy, be inspired and solve for your customer's needs

With so many product decisions to make, and little time and money, it makes total sense to look at how other companies are solving similar problems. It gives you an idea of what works, what flows customers might already be familiar with and can greatly increase getting something live fast, that delights the user. You make your product unique by having a deep understanding of your customer's needs and accentuating your product's unique differences.

Useful links

  • Useronboard.com - a whole host of great product onboarding tear-downs
  • GoodUI - a lot of great UI best practices especially for conversion tests


Dharmesh Raithatha

Chief Product Officer @ Forward Partners

Dharmesh Raithatha is ex Chief Product Officer and Founding Partner at Forward Partners. He now coaches new product leaders and and helps startups excel from Seed to Series E companies. He has a passion for building great products and businesses and helping others do the same. Dharmesh has a background in artificial intelligence and has been doing product for over 17 years in his own or other high profile startups.

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