How To Develop Your Core Product


An entrepreneur, technologist and investor. CEO of Fundsquire. Helping global startups grow through fintech and funding innovation.

Name a startup that became a household name and you’ll hear a story of a successful core product. Yes, their branding might be great, their marketing brilliant and their sales teams well-oiled machines, but at the center of their success is a product that customers love.

Sometimes these products create categories and revolutionize society, other times they simply do one small thing very well. Interestingly, great new companies are often not amazing groundbreaking ideas, rather they’re incremental improvements or a new take on what others have done (or failed to do) previously.

Developing Your Core Product

Building and continually improving your core product is crucial to your company’s strategy, trajectory and ultimate success. Your product is the foundation on which you can build your growing company.

The first step toward discovering your core product likely is, or was, the lightbulb moment that made you start your company in the first place. You saw something others didn’t, identified a need in a market you’re deeply familiar with or built on a concept you’re passionate about. Many of us know the story of how Tom’s shoes came to be, and I’ve seen hundreds of similar, but unique, stories in my time helping fund startups.

My first piece of advice is to take the time to work on and test your idea. Many new founders are scared that their brilliant idea will be “stolen” if they share them. The fact is, even if it was, are they in a better position than you to build it? And do they have your drive and passion to see that idea go from concept to reality? In my experience, the answer is no.

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Avoid The Shiny New Thing And Focus

Most stories of successful businesses start, and sometimes finish, with one thing done very well. As a founder, it’s tempting and very natural to cast your eye toward the “shiny new thing” that could possibly grow your company. The key to doing this well is both a focus on the customer and making sure the timing is right for your business.

Past success stories (and failures, of which there are countless) tell us that allocating resources toward building your core product is a better strategy than diversifying early, especially with limited key resources. Mediocre solutions are already in the market, why add more?

Even global behemoths are focused to the point of obsession with their core product. Love it or hate it, McDonald’s is an amazing example of quality and consistency across the world.

My own company had an initial focus on creating a product that aimed to serve early-stage businesses better than anything else we saw on the market. From there, we built the sales, operations, credit and technology to support it. It was only after our customers were happy with what we offered and how we delivered it that we diversified our product portfolio to further serve their needs. Allocating resources between continued delivery of excellence in your core product and expansion becomes even more important as your business grows and matures.

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Serving A Niche

Finding an unmet need or underserved gap in a niche market where you can provide a solution to a smaller group of people or companies is another common strategy and a well-worn road to success. Focusing on a niche gives clarity on the product, CX, technology requirements and pricing.

This is why many successful founders have experience in the market they’re looking to serve with their concept. Understanding your customer and their problem is key, and creating a business that serves them better than anyone else is the goal.

Big companies don’t stay in their niche forever, but they continue to focus on serving that unmet gap.

Will It Scale?

Think about how your core product will scale. Is its scope limited to a local or very specific niche or are your aspirations bigger?

When ready, expanding revenue streams with new products is an excellent source of growth. For example, Wealthsimple started by offering robo-advisor portfolio management, and now they offer multiple financial products. Xero was a cloud bookkeeping software in Australia and New Zealand, but now it’s a global accounting marketplace. Perhaps, more famously, Uber was a ride-hailing giant before they moved into delivering food. They all did one thing well, built a loyal customer base and grew from there.

For tech and SaaS companies, the question becomes more about building for global first and creating the operations necessary to make it happen.

Data Matters

Well-resourced companies use big data to inform and drive business decisions. Almost 35% of Amazon’s annual sales come from collaborative filtering engines (CFE) that analyze a customer’s history, purchases, wish lists and reviews, then use that data to recommend similar purchases. Google’s people analytics department helps the company make key HR decisions by gathering data from employee surveys and performance reviews. Data is shaping decision-making in companies on every level—from marketing to HR.

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You may not have the same data lakes and power to process it, but you do have one thing in common with the big guys: You know your customers. Ask questions. Request feedback. Diligent data collection can reveal blind spots in your product and processes. You may have great instincts about what the best product may look like, but the final judge is the market.

Prototyping, Testing And Building The Feedback Loop

There’s no use analyzing user data and collecting feedback from your customers if you don’t use it. Creating a system of continuous feedback, prototyping, testing and incremental improvement will accelerate your growth and customer experience.

Prototyping or running “live experiments” gives you real-time feedback that you can use to enhance product development. It’s your opportunity to create a product that truly fits your customer, troubleshoots any errors, fixes functionality and makes incremental improvements. Ultimately, by building a continuous loop of feedback between the customer, data and product team, your product will be fit for purpose and serve your customers incrementally better.


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