Welcome to the second edition of the Physical Product Experiment! In this series, I will be exploring and experimenting my way through a brand new realm for me: a physical product.
In case you missed the first Physical Product Experiment [PPE #1] post, you can check that out here.
To help ease you into this second post, I want to share a quick recap on what it is I am experimenting with, why I am doing it, and what it means for you!
But before I do that, I want to thank those who’ve already signed up to be a part of the initial feedback group for this physical product. You will, with the help of the productivity calendar, be writing the first draft of a book in ninety days. That’s awesome, and I’m so excited to see what you’ll write.
Remember this: You are the glue that holds this experimentation process together. Without your integral feedback and actual testing of the product, it might not make it anywhere. Thank you!
Why I Am Experimenting with a Physical Product
As I mentioned in Physical Product Experiment #1, this experiment represents the opportunity to try something new. And with that attempt comes a chance at some amazing possibilities. That’s why I am doing this; creating this physical productivity calendar.
I think the calendar can make a world of difference in the lives of folks like you and me. Whether you use the calendar to help you write the first draft of your book, or simply stay on top of the day-to-day tasks, it’s an integral tool that I envision to be not only easy to use but also necessary.
Although it’s all very exciting, the truth is it’s also scary and it may fail. But I think, and I hope you do too, that it’s an experiment worth pursuing.
Won’t you join me for the ride?
The Importance of Feedback
This physical product experiment is a test in the power and importance of feedback. To make this a successful physical product, I need to first validate its legitimacy and value. And that’s why, in the last post, I asked for twenty volunteers to test out the calendar with an actual, real-world task: writing the draft of a book in ninety days.
Before you launch anything, as I wrote about in Will It Fly?, you need to validate it. You need to make sure it’s actually something that people want. If I found, through this experiment, that this physical product concept wasn’t something people were interested in, I’d scrap it.
I want to make something that people will benefit from.
That’s why feedback is so important.
One of the things I’ve discussed a lot here on SPI is the idea of the “first, immediate reaction.” It’s something I seek from my mastermind group all the time. To elaborate on that, think of it this way:
How would someone respond to your idea with their first, immediate reaction? What’s their gut response going to be?
That’s an important gauge to keep in mind when you’re testing out your product idea. Within the context of my physical product experiment, I’m seeking that first, immediate, gut reaction from you, as you read and learn more about the calendar product; and, more specifically, I want that first, immediate reaction from those who’ve signed up to test out the calendar.
Now, before I delve deeper into the importance of feedback and validation, you may be wondering if there’s a downside to sharing your ideas with people. Unfortunately, there is.
First, there’s the insecurity part. You’ve spent all of this time coming up with this cool idea, and if you find that the first, immediate reaction is one of negativity or discouragement, that always sucks.
Second, there’s the worry that others might steal your idea. That could happen. You can’t control what people do. You can only control what you do. That is, in some ways, part of the risk that comes with the territory.
Here’s the thing. We can control our own insecurity. That’s part of the discomfort that comes with taking risks and putting ourselves out there. It’s why we do what we do. As for the idea stealing, well, there’s not much we can do about that. If people want to do that, that’s their choice. One way to reduce that risk is to share your ideas with those you trust, and maybe other people connected to them.
The truth is that the pros far outweigh the cons.
The Time I Didn’t Ask for Feedback
If you don’t talk about your ideas with others, you risk creating something that people won’t want. I’ve done that before, and I learned a lot through the process.
It was many years ago. I built a piece software without ever sharing it with anybody. Well, not until it was too late, that is. I thought it was going to be great, and make a big, positive impact. But it didn’t. I quickly discovered that it wasn’t anything special. That was really tough to stomach.
After I built and I was all set to launch it, I remember sharing it with some folks to see what they thought. But it was far too late for any changes. I was out of money and totally worn out. I couldn’t even take advantage of the positive ideas that came out of those conversations because I had already worked my way into a corner with no way to escape except to just let it go.
And so I did.
That experience reminds me of my conversation with John Saddington on Smart Passive Income Podcast Session #61 about the entrepreneurial mindset and successful startups. In that episode, John had said something that has stuck with me to this day, nearly four years later. He said:
“This is kind of a very global and very quick overview, but the first thing you do when you have a great idea is you write it down. You don’t keep it in your brain. You write it down, you vomit as much as you possibly can on a physical piece of paper. I could spend a lot of time on why I think physical pieces of paper are really valuable. So don’t just put it in Evernote, don’t just put it on a text document on your computer. Actually write it down. There’s something powerful when you apply pressure with the pen on the pieces of paper.
And then I want you to carry it around wherever you go for the next couple of weeks, or even the next month. I want you to share it with as many people as you possibly can. The people that you know, your spouse, your kids, your friends, maybe your business partners, people at Starbucks, in line at your local deli—EVERYONE. Because this is what happens when you start sharing that idea—it starts becoming refined. And a refined idea is a much more mature idea.
You’ll get quick feedback—instant, guttural feedback from people—and especially from complete strangers that say ‘that is a stupid idea’ or ‘that’s a great idea but have you thought about this?’ And again, because you have a piece of paper, you don’t have your iPhone, it’s harder to type on your iPhone, you can quickly add that. And so that’s what I do with great ideas. I capture them and I start sharing it, because now the idea is refined.”
As I mentioned before, and what John said here, is that you should be looking for that initial, immediate, gut reaction. I’m not a body language expert, but there are specific things you should look for when you share your idea with people to see how they respond. First, look to see if they move in any way. Do they perk up a bit? Do their eyes widen? Do they tilt their head?
These are all potential examples of a positive reaction in your audience. If you don’t see any of those body language tells, it could be a sign that your idea isn’t ready. Either way, it’s important to be mindful of these little tells in your audience, as they can be the key to which direction you go with your idea.
Remember the Data
In addition to the body language, data is another, more objective indicator of whether or not your idea is going to be a success.
When my team and I were creating my new course, Smart From Scratch (it’s currently closed but we’re opening it up again in June, so sign up for the waitlist here!), data and web analytics were important parts of our research process.
While data isn’t the only thing you should look at, it can help you verify and backup your claims. For example, when we built FoodTruckr.com, I did a lot of research into the data first. I looked at keywords in the food truck space, I figured out where, within the data, I could stake my claim. If I hadn’t done that data research, I might have created a site that targeted people who were looking for food trucks for sale, rather than guidance on running a food truck business. “Food trucks for sale” was a huge keyword in the industry at the time, so I had to be careful, with the keywords I used, to avoid that mistake.
However, it all came together more fully when I had actual conversations with people in the food truck industry. I learned about how some always wanted their own food truck. I learned that some needed basic business guidance in running a food truck. I learned that some were less likely to read a blog post about food trucks than listen to a podcast.
It all goes to show that, yes, data is important.
And so, in the FoodTruckr example, we created a FoodTruckr podcast. To this day, even though I haven’t published an episode lately, the podcast gets anywhere between 200 and 1,000 downloads per day. That is, without a doubt, the result of the conversations I had, which has in turn directly affected the books and the products that are being sold on that site today.
Without being open to conversations with your audience, your idea won’t fly.
Feedback with the Physical Product Experiment
Let’s get back to why I’m here: the physical product experiment. Even before this experiment started, I initiated conversations with people to gauge their reactions. I actually talk about the questions I asked of people specifically in Smart From Scratch, which is an interesting wayfinding point in this product experiment journey.
You can actually see the progression of how this calendar idea came into being within Smart From Scratch. It was at that point I started to adopt potential customers by bringing people into the process, asking them questions, engaging with them openly about the idea.
The fact that I was able to get 65 email applications in response to the first Physical Product Experiment [PPE #1] post, is a testament to the interest in this idea. If I didn’t get any emails, or very few, then it would be very clear to me that there was something wrong with the product, the messaging, or the target market. And I’d need to rethink it with my team.
You see, traditionally, when people start businesses, they will often skip the research or maybe even just focus on the data only without engaging with the audience to find out how they respond.
They’ll go out there, they’ll spend all of their money, they’ll build their product, they’ll put all that sweat equity and effort into the idea. And then, they will make it available for purchase and shout from the rooftops to say, “Here is my product” But then, when no sales come in, they have no idea what went wrong. Was it because of the product? Was it because of the way that the product was sold? Was it because of this or that? Was it the messaging? They have no idea They’re just guessing at that point.
Don’t do that.
Instead, reach out early and often. Engage your audience, see what they think, get the feedback both you and they deserve. Trust their opinion. More often than not, you’ll be able to improve your idea greatly through that feedback loop.
With this physical calendar product idea that I’m exploring, as I talk to more and more people about it, it’s clear that this calendar and workbook idea is something that’s out there. It’s not necessarily new. So the feedback has been that it can’t be like anything else out there. It has to be an improvement on what already exists. There are a lot of great workbooks out there now that can walk you through certain processes: goal setting, discipline, and focus. That’s great. But if I were to create just another one of those with a calendar on top of it, it would definitely not be a great option, and nothing that people would want to pay money for because there already have those to choose from.
What would make my workbook better than the rest?
The answer, based on the feedback so far, is a calendar and workbook combination that targets a specific goal. In this initial test case, the goal is to write the first draft of a book in ninety days—a goal twenty of you are working toward now! That was a goal idea plucked straight from my audience, which is super cool.
But, like the product idea itself, the day-to-day use of the product needs to be interesting and engaging as well. So, based on lots of back and forth conversations about the daily goals, including discussions about daily or weekly word count goals, we learned one very important thing:
To those who had started writing a book but then stopped, we asked why they stopped. We learned, curiously, that they weren’t inspired or compelled to move forward because they either didn’t know where to take the writing or didn’t feel like the creative process was engaging or innovative enough.
So, that informs my idea by telling me that I need to make sure that a) users of the calendar and workbook feel compelled and inspired; and b) that they are engaged creatively.
If I simply created a calendar, that wouldn’t work. I needed a workbook too, and I needed to make that workbook engaging, like a handy tool. So, the idea is that the workbook would act as a guide, or the instructions toward completing the goal. Like a tutor, in a way, so there would be that built-in interactive component.
When I was first talking to people about this product idea, we had a lot of conversations about, well, what kinds of interactions would you like to see? Would you want to write down things on both the workbook and the calendar? Then there’s the discussion of what you’d want to write down. And, if there are any other components involved, including magnets or stickers that can help people keep track of their goals.
The Calendar + Workbook Goal: Writing the First Draft of a Book
As a first test of how the calendar and workbook are used together, we tasked twenty people to use the calendar and workbook as their guide to writing the first draft of a book in ninety days. Now, because this is still an experiment, we don’t know how that will go—and for those of you taking that challenge currently, we’re counting on you for all your amazing feedback!
Writing a book is definitely a challenge. I’m no stranger to that. So, we’re not sure yet how we will be gauging success as someone goes through the process. Words written per day or time spent writing or what. That is something we’re still exploring because a part of me wants to say, “Well, if you don’t meet that goal, you can still get a lot of great writing done.”
Sometimes writing is not about writing itself. It’s about coming up with ideas and brainstorming, which doesn’t include any words on a paper at all. But those are foundational elements of writing. So for example, if there was a goal to write 1,000 words per day, you still might feel like a failure even though you did all that mental preparation and brainstorming. There’d have to be a balance there.
Other options we’re still discussing is to, rather than set a daily word count goal, make it so the writer just needs to track their habit of daily writing. Not set word count goal. Just that they’ve written. The more you write, after all, the more likely your writing will become a habit. It becomes easier, and then you have the potential of achieving that deep work phase like Cal Newport mentioned in Smart Passive Income Podcast Session #255.
Every one who I spoke to loved the idea of tracking a habit that supported a specific goal. I like the idea of even including a sticker, from the workbook, that can be placed on the calendar as a visible motivator to keep going. I think that is simple but powerful.
And yet, we’re still here experimenting and testing. There are still a lot of questions in the air, and we’re still collecting a lot of feedback. People validated that they really liked the idea of a shorter, thirteen-week or quarterly calendar rather than a twelve-month calendar. The idea is that it allows you to reassess your goals more quickly when the new calendar rolls around.
One more thing I’ll mention about the feedback is that people wanted to know who else was going to go through the calendar/workbook goal process with them. I think we can all agree that it’s much easier to do something when you know there are other people doing it with you. But that wasn’t initially something we had thought about because we just were working on the workbook and the calendar. But now, thanks to the awesome feedback, I think there’s going to be a community component added in to enable and inspire them to engage with each other.
So, that’s where we’re at now. We’re still having conversations with people but we’re narrowing things down and are about ready to create our first prototype. We’re also working on branding at the same time because we’re planning for the future. If this is something that works out very well, we’re going to expand it into other goals. However, we’re definitely not making anything permanent until we can say yes to this particular step and have something in place before moving forward.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Physical Product Experiment! You’ll see that on the Smart Passive Income blog next month!
Thanks to all those who’ve signed up to test out the calendar and workbook, and to those who have simply expressed curiosity in the idea. You folks rock.
(Note: We're no longer accepting applications for the Physical Product Experiment. Thanks to those who've expressed interest in being a part of this!)