Justin is the Product Manager for Industry Mailout. He’s passionate about building products that delight customers, and also blogs on justinjackson.ca and tweets via @mijustin


When you’re trying to build your own product, it’s easy to get in a rut. Stuff happens, and it affects your momentum: failed launches, procrastination, fear, not knowing where to start… all these things take their toll.

But 2014 is a new year. The new year is the perfect time to renew your energy, and actually launch something.

Here’s a framework for helping you succeed with your own product starting this January.

“The best time to take action toward a dream is yesterday; the worst is tomorrow; the best compromise is today.”

~ Alvah Simon, Author

Who is your audience, and what do they need?

It’s time to go back to basics: who are your customers?

In the midst of building your product, you might have forgotten about who you’re trying to serve with this thing you’re building.

Take the beginning of January develop a clear vision of who your customer is, and what they need. Reach out to customers personally. Get a feel for who they are, what they do, and what they need help with.

You’re not just developing software/writing a book/offering a download: you’re helping real people solve real problems.

“[Successful companies] create products for people in their audience — not some niche industry they discovered maybe needed software or books… they focused on helping people”

~ Amy Hoy, 30×500

What are you building, and why does it matter?

Now, take a look at your product. What have you been building? Does it match up with what your customers need?

Maybe that feature you were hammering on in 2013 just doesn’t matter – it’s OK to stop working on it. In fact, to succeed, you’re going to need to focus on what does matter.

Where’s the gap between what you currently provide, and the pain that your audience has?

“People don’t buy software, they buy outcomes.”

~ Brennan Dunn, Planscope

Focus on one thing at a time

Trying to solve multiple pain points all at once will spread you too thin. Pick the biggest pain point and focus on just that until it’s shipped. Coming up with ideas for new features gives you a temporary high: it’s invigorating to think about other projects you could work on. But the key to success is seeing one project through before starting on another.

If you’re looking for a good organizational system, I recommendPersonal Kanban.

“There’s not much more important than focus and tenacity.”

~ Seth Godin, (Source)

Remove distractions

In order to really focus, remove every distraction that you can.

Just sit in your office, and observe your impulses. What breaks your concentration?

Maybe it’s when the phone rings. Or a Twitter notification. Kids yelling? Bored of your surroundings?

Take note of the things that keep you from getting your best work done, and try to minimize those things.

“Each time a worker was distracted from a task, it would take, on average, 25 minutes to return to that task.”

~ Clive Thompson, Meet the Life Hackers

Deal with personal issues

You’ve observed what environmental distractions affect your productivity, but there’s one more factor you need to consider. You have internal distractions as well: the stress in your life.

If you’re worried about debt, a relational issue, your health, you’re not going to make good decisions in other areas of your life (including business). Deal with those personal issues first!

More reading: How stress affects your mental health.

Put regular check-ups in your calendar

If you haven’t already, make it a goal to schedule the following things in your company’s calendar:

  • Quarterly product check-up: are you on the right track? Are you helping customers with real needs?
  • Monthly accountability group meeting: get together with other folks building products. Share your struggles, questions, and successes.
  • Bigger events / conferences: plan to attend 1-2 conferences this year. Put them in your calendar now!
  • Quarterly fun: plan something fun. Ideally, something every 3 months is ideal. This could be as simple as taking the afternoon off to go see a movie, or planning a weekend ski trip.

January is a great month to figure this stuff out

It’s ok to take the month of January to go through the process:

  • Ask “who is your audience, and what do they need?”
  • Ask “what are you building, and why does it matter?”
  • Pick the biggest pain point and make that your first focus for 2014
  • Observe your work environment, and remove distractions
  • Think about how you could reduce your individual stress
  • Plan a calendar

Ready to build and launch your own product?