Crowdfunding platforms solve three key problems for startups, two of which are obvious. Kickstarter and Indiegogo, among others validate demand and provide short term financing by marketing product ideas and accepting pre-payment for future delivery. Consumers vote with their dollars to catalyze product development.
The third, less obvious benefit, is the platforms cajole startups to follow a product management process similar to Amazon’s process, described below by Ian McAllister in his Quora post What Is Amazon’s Product Management Process?
For new initiatives a product manager typically starts by writing an internal press release announcing the finished product. The target audience for the press release is the new/updated product’s customers, which can be retail customers or internal users of a tool or technology. Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions.
It is easy to draw a parallel between the Amazon press releases and the project pages on Kickstarter:
Here’s an example outline for Amazon’s internal press release:
Heading - Name the product in a way the reader (i.e. your target customers) will understand.
Sub-Heading - Describe who the market for the product is and what benefit they get. One sentence only underneath the title.
Summary - Give a summary of the product and the benefit. Assume the reader will not read anything else so make this paragraph good.
Problem - Describe the problem your product solves.
Solution - Describe how your product elegantly solves the problem.
Quote from You - A quote from a spokesperson in your company.
How to Get Started - Describe how easy it is to get started.
Customer Quote - Provide a quote from a hypothetical customer that describes how they experienced the benefit.
Closing and Call to Action - Wrap it up and give pointers where the reader should go next.
Amazon’s product management philosophy champions the idea of working backwards, something I’ve written about in the past. By initially focusing on the value proposition, features and positioning to maximize future customer demand, Amazon’s product teams should be consistently delivering products that delight customers.
Crowdfunding sites take this idea one step further than Amazon’s process by enabling product teams to truly measure demand after having written the press release. These platforms are some of the best customer development and market research tools available to product teams because they enforce a product management discipline and then empower the product teams to refine and distill an idea, prove market demand, and use this data to potentially raise external capital to get to market.