A startup I’m currently working with has a very deep understanding of their market, with a clear view on how they can innovate and enhance their customers’ experience. They have a great idea for a mobile app but they don’t know where to start, what kind of features they can afford to put in, and what features actually best fit what their market wants.

The sad truth is even if they have $10 million and are able to develop every idea they have in their head, the products will still suck because they are not from the company’s core identity or value – and this is key.

When you’re building a startup, you need to think about the product features that will change your customers’ life. That’s exactly what you need to figure out first before you move forward with writing the project specification to give your developer.

In this blog post, we’ll help you take your idea (which may be a blurry one that you probably have to blur even more to come up with other better ideas and get to a single main one) and build your project specification around it.

Create personas

Brainstorming is key when you want to build an innovative startup. The best way to start brainstorming is by identifying who you want to serve. Everything always starts from your customers. The main technique for brainstorming that we highly recommend you use is by defining your “personas.”

A persona is an imaginative character that represents exactly the kind of customers you want to serve. So first, think of what their names are, what kinds of job they have, what their ages are, where they live, what they do on a regular basis, what their morning routines are, what they do in the evening, what they have for lunch, when they use their phones (is it just when they wake up in the morning, when they have lunch, when they go to the toilet), etc.

Define in as much detail as possible the behavior of your characters – and you should have several ones. Define their needs, things that annoy them, things that give them headaches, and then define their goals. Goals can be this week’s goals, six months’ goals or their life goals. They might want to go on vacation as an example. Also describe what makes them happy, what makes them move forward, what makes them love the life they live.

Brainstorm ideas

Now you have a good understanding of who you want to serve, and maybe you have one, two, three, four or five characters. The next step is to look at them and identify the best buyers. Who are the best buyers among your personas?

If you already have a business in this market or already know some trends, who are the best buyers in this market? Where do most of your money come from? We are not talking about the number of customers. Maybe you have 80% of your turnover that is coming from only 20% of your customers. That 20% is who you should focus on. They’re the ones that provide you the most of the value of your company.

Once you have identified your best buyers, your characters might go from five or six down to only one or two. In addition to identifying these characters, figure out their main behavior. Describe those behaviors and their primary needs. Also analyze how you can create a product that’s a pain reliever – what can make their life easier and remove their pain.

Then, create a list. Create a list of all these information, keeping in mind the problem that you’re trying solving with this idea. You might come up with a list of five, 10, 15, 20 or 30 ideas that you will then prioritize in the next step.

Prioritize the features

Now that we have a list, the next thing to do is write your product roadmap.

Then, think of your core values as a founder. If you want to build a great startup, you need to build something that speaks to you, that makes sense to you, and that you are willing to change the world for. It’s very important to be passionate about what you do, and then you build a business around it.

Through the roadmap process, define which features of your product fit your values and are aligned with your principles and passion as the founder. That should leave you about five to 10 features. At this stage, it’s best to focus on not more than 10 of these. From this list, we will then be able to create the user experience.

Build the user experience

Take a piece of paper and draw the first main screen of your application. What does your app look like when a user launches it? That’s the first stage.

Once you have this main screen, you then create the customer workflow. Write down why they’re there and what they’re looking at. You can use Post-its for this process. Read our blog post on how to build the customer experience to help you with this.

So create the workflow of your customers, where they go next from the main screen, to the second one, and then to the third one. Then define what the processes are. Use one color of Post-its specifically for your customer’s process and another different color for your company’s process. If you are in a customer-to-customer (C2C) business, maybe have a third color for the vendor’s process.

From there, create several other screens of your application describing what the key information on each interface are and the processes that your startup will provide to your customers.

At this stage, you’ll have all the maps of your customer workflow – the information you want on each screen and the processes that you want to build. You now have to turn that into a user story.

Create the user story

A user story is the technical way to describe the features. It follows this format:
As a user “A”,
I can do “something”
So that I can get these “benefits.”

Describe on each screen of your app what the user story is and what the user can do on each screen. Put all of that information in one single document, and you now have your first version specification. This will enable you and your developer to create a minimum viable product or MVP, which will highlight your one main feature.

You’ll have one main screen on your application with one main feature. This one main feature is the only thing that’s necessary for your main screen to work and to provide the value that you’ve promised to your customers. That’s the goal of your app. And the goal of the project specification is to focus on just one main feature.

Future steps

After publishing your first version, you’ll eventually find out whether the features that you want to do are the right ones or not. If they’re not, then you’ll have to pivot. Pivoting the startup, pivoting the company is a required step for every successful startup. You will always have an unexpected thing happen from the market, from your customers, from their behavior, from competitors, or even from you and your own team. It’s one of the things that makes the startup world interesting.

Still have questions about writing your project spec? Ask us in the comments section below. Need a more in-depth help with this to create your product? Check out our courses on My CTO friend.