How to do product research for your startup


Discover essential strategies for conducting effective product research to ensure your startup's success. Learn how to identify market needs, analyze competitors, and gather valuable customer insights to refine your product idea and stand out in the market.
It’s time to take what you know about the market and your customer to shape a product that addresses their needs, starting with your MVP. But how? Sure, you could say you want to do everything better, but at this stage, you’ll need to gain a better understanding of the specific features you’ll prioritize in order to uphold your business’s unique value proposition.

In this guide, you'll walk away understanding:
  • When to do product research, and who should do it
  • How to set goals for your product research
  • Actual ways to conduct useful product research
  • What to do with what findings you gather

When to conduct product research

You should conduct product research before launching a product, when you’re in the process of working out product-market fit. It’s also, like almost everything else in the iterative process, something that needs to happen throughout the product life cycle. As any new feature gets developed, it should go through this research process. 

Who conducts product research

On larger teams, product research is something that is handled by a product management team or person, a design team or person, or a combination of the two. The former typically handles product strategy from a business perspective while the latter works out product research on a more granular user experience level—while both maintain focus on the customer. 

If you’re a solo founder, you should still conduct product research to help you evaluate product features, and you need to be doing it from both a strategic business perspective and product experience perspective.

Let’s start with the things you’ll need to uncover during the product research process.

Goals of product research

Understand customer pain points

Pain points, a.k.a. problems, can be further split up into subcategories, ensuring that you think of your product in its entirety not just as a concept but as an experience. For example:
  • Financial pain points—Is the current solution out of budget?
  • Productivity pain points—Does the current solution take too much time to learn?
  • Process pain points—What parts of the process in using the product are cumbersome?
  • Support pain points—Is the customer not getting the proper support they need to understand or use the product?

Good products that address your customers’ pain points take a holistic approach by identifying all the pain points from various parts of the customer journey, decision making process, as well as during product usage. 

You can learn more about customer research to align your product to your customers’ needs here.

Align with business goals

Understanding customer pain points isn’t enough, as there are likely many problems to address, some of which may even be contradictory. For example, one customer segment may need more support and doesn’t mind paying a premium, while another may see financial pain points as primary and are looking for a self-serve model. 

You’ll need to find the intersection between addressing the pain points of your specific target customer and where they meet your business goals. To do that, you may want to consider concepts like founder-market fit and market conditions to help you assess what your business goals are. 

Differentiate from competitors

With the research you’ve already conducted on competitors, you should be well set up with an understanding of what the gaps are with the solutions currently on the market. Now, it’s time to hone in. You should be diving deeper at this stage to use what you know about your customers to determine what features your product will have in common with your competitors and what features will help you differentiate from them. 

As long as you’re innovating on the differentiation factors that relate to your business’s unique value proposition, most likely you will have existing crossover in terms of features with products that already exist—and that’s a good thing, since it means your customer doesn’t have to learn something entirely new.

Prioritize product features for your MVP

Lastly, one of the most important aims of conducting product research is to help prioritize what’s most important and therefore, what should come first in what may potentially be a long and endless roadmap in the lifespan of your product. 

How do you make that distinction between must-have and nice-to-have? Think in terms of needs vs wants. What are the critical features that your MVP can’t function without? What are the features your customers have spoken most strongly about? Your goal isn’t perfection. It’s to provide enough distinguishable and immediate value that customers are willing to switch over from another product, or more specifically even using the lean startup model, to test your assumptions about what that value is. 

Ways to conduct product research

Product research is usually done through a mix of direct and indirect methods, and builds on what you’ve already learned about your market and customer. 

Methods can include:
  • Customer research including focus groups, interviews, user testing, and surveys
  • If you’re conducting product research on an already live/existing product, you can use real-time product data tools such as Google Analytics or Hotjar, to understand customer behaviors and not just what they know to tell you
  • Conducting thorough analysis of your competitors, using any existing competitive research to start and when possible, using and testing their products to gain firsthand knowledge
  • Social listening and reading including articles written by industry leaders and experts, starting a Twitter or Tik Tok account to engage with a community and co-creating a product with them, or subscribing to newsletters where insights are shared on a consistent basis

Many of the methods crossover from methods used to conduct market research or customer research. The difference here is that the lens you’ll be looking through is now much more specific and focused on product features:

Market research: To help you assess the market to understand the opportunities and gaps in order to develop a product idea
Product research: To help you assess the products on the market to develop a product roadmap and scope out and prioritize product features
Customer research: To help you understand the customers within the market to align your product to their needs and wants

What to do with your product research findings?

Segment and filter research

As you’re conducting product research, you’ll likely learn a lot and have plenty of ideas for features and ideas on what you’ll want to include in your product MVP, so it’s important that you find a way to organize the information. 

Use tools like Airtable, Trello, Notion, or even spreadsheet software to easily add information, categorize your findings, and assign or tag relevant team members. Tip: A tool that allows you the flexibility to tag and categorize in multiple ways can be very helpful in this process so you can easily and visually see from multiple perspectives the results of your product research. 

You can segment product research findings any way you can think of but here are two ways that are common:
  • Features based on customer pain points or goals
  • Features based on business objectives

Rank features quantitatively

Once you’ve categorized features, you can also apply quantitative analysis methods to help you prioritize features, such as the impact/effort matrix (where you plot features along a 2x2 square measuring along axes of low impact to high impact and low effort to high effort), or the RICE score (where you assess and rank features based on Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort). Thinking in terms of the Pareto principle can also be helpful: what are the 20 percent of features that will drive 80 percent of your results?

Ranking features isn’t just about figuring out what to keep and what to toss; you can also think about it in terms of what’s urgent and what can be saved for later, post-MVP for different product phases, as long as you’re open to tossing that plan out the window as many startups often do when things change. However, if you notice anything that’s low-priority (for example, a feature that’s high effort and low impact within the impact/effort matrix), don’t be afraid to be ruthless about cutting it from your MVP. 

Start building your roadmap

This is the very beginning of your product roadmap, which acts as a guide for translating your overall product vision and strategy into a real, usable product. A product roadmap can get very bloated and complex so keep it as simple as possible, for as long as you can. 

One final thing to keep in mind when determining your product roadmap is to avoid over-focusing on product features. Even though the goal at this stage is to help you determine product features as you get set to start building a product, your focus should always remain on your customer, business goals, and the benefits/objectives that these product features address.

Product research can be an unwieldy bear of a project, but by now you should feel comfortable understanding:
  • What product research is, and different ways to do it
  • Who should be conducting product research
  • How to understanding your findings, and
  • How to apply those findings in useful ways. 

Now get researching!
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