The 1 Question to Ask Before Developing a Product

Why do 9 out of 10 startups fail? Why do 50% - 96% of new products by large companies fail? The answer to these sad statistics has everything to do customer obsession. The one question you must ask yourself before developing a product is: Am I completely obsessed with my customers?

The key differentiator in successful and failed products is how customer obsessed you are. You can determine positioning, pricing, marketing, strategic partnerships, and even suppliers by being completely infatuated with your customer’s behaviors, activities, and interests. Everything will fall into to place if you are in love with your problem and in love with your customers.

An even deeper insight into customer obsession, and key to nailing a product, is understanding a person’s "Unarticulated Needs."

Unarticulated Needs are a simple concept to grasp, but incredibly hard to get right. It means you need something you didn’t know you needed. “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” This quote is often attributed to Henry Ford, although zero evidence exists to support this claim.

The Tide to Go "stick-pen" was developed off observed Unarticulated Needs. Tide detergent executives went into homes and watched people doing their laundry. They witnessed a pattern of pre-treating stains across geographies, homes, and environments. People would keep a toothbrush near the detergent bottle, pick up some liquid on the toothbrush, and brush it into the stain on the clothing before dropping the clothes into the washer. This workaround (official product development term) became a multi-billion dollar product that stopped these stains before they became a problem - at the inception point. We spoke with George Glackin, former senior executive of innovation at Procter & Gamble, the makers of Tide and this product. "Ah-ha moments come when you can see a way to solve an important problem in a whole new way. The end user may not even be aware that there is a better way. Once they see it, however, and they say 'now that is an obvious new solution', then you know you have a winner!"

I want to be careful about using the iPod as an example, because the iPod was nowhere near being the first MP3 player. Putting Apple marketing aside, the reason MP3 players didn’t catch on had everything to do with usability and product design. Other MP3 players were confusing to use and didn’t come with a convenient way to load music. They were just external hard drives with headphone jacks. All our music at the time was digital, Apple showed us how to listen to it. The Unarticulated Need was a way to listen to digital music files in a delightful way. Apple gave us a screen, a simple way to scroll and select songs, and iTunes: to load and unload songs and create playlists.

One of my favorite companies, eponymously named Chuck-it, noticed something every dog-owner hated but tolerated: picking up filthy, dirty, slobbery tennis balls. But we all did it anyway when playing fetch with our dogs. Chuck-it figured out a way to give you slobber-free-pick-up (a term they invented) and let you throw tennis balls further than you could by hand. Unarticulated Need: slobber-free-pick-up. Bonus benefit adding: increased distance.

So what’s with the high fail-rate? Because Unarticulated Needs can be counter-intuitive and take serious work to uncover. How can you observe Unarticulated Needs? You need to ask questions, observe, and empathize. You have to foresee pains and patterns - even if a user may not recognize they have a problem. You have to take some (data-backed) risk. Then you need to build it the right way, iterate quickly, get tons of feedback, not run out of cash, and get market adoption. Sounds easy, right?


Anthroware’s greatest strength is eliminating the workarounds, the rework and the waste, by creating digital aids. We turn Unarticulated Needs into digital products. We spend a significant amount of time observing users, asking questions, creating low-fidelity mock-ups, getting feedback, and iterating quickly towards beautiful software that delights users.

We’re obsessed with our users; we’re obsessed with your users. We love interacting with technology to make our personal and professional lives better. Are you thinking of creating a new product? Ready to launch your startup? Let’s talk about finding your Unarticulated Need and building a delightful experience.