Tesla Cybertruck, Microsoft Courier, Cadillac Sixteen.
All products from some of the world’s most well-known brands. And all products that have (as of this writing) never made it to a single customer.
They don’t exist. So how do we know about them? They were all shared with us directly from the company when they were in the prototype or “idea” phase.
In software, it’s become too common for product teams to protect ideas like they’re nuclear launch codes. This is the same type of thinking that’s led to the disappointing practice of announcing new products and features as late as possible. We think it’s a mistake. Not only should teams announce product updates early and often, they should go one step further and publicly publish certain ideas.
At LaunchNotes, we recently built idea publishing into our product. This allows product teams to present a potential feature that is not committed to but is being considered for the roadmap.
But why share your ideas? Here are seven strong reasons we believe in.
Anticipation is a powerful emotion to cultivate. The hottest products and releases often get a months- or years-long preamble. This is by design. Disney knows it will sell more Star Wars tickets if people spend months watching the trailer and talking about the movie before the release. Ideas can have a similar effect. They give your customers and market something to look forward to and talk about.
Customer conversations around product ideas can be potent insights to fuel your product development cycle. Think of all the times you get feedback after a release and think “I wish I’d known that before we started building.”
If you’re shipping physical products—AKA atoms instead of bits—you deal with a lot of pesky “real world” logistics. Shipping, factories, supply chains, inventory storage. You can’t roll 100,000 units of a new SKU off an assembly line without a pretty good idea that there’s actual demand for what you’ve built. In software, SaaS especially, we’ve all gotten a little lazy on this front. We write the code, and there’s not a real material difference if we sell 100 subscriptions or 1,000. It’s a powerful dynamic and part of what makes SaaS a great business model. But it’s also created a real deficiency in the demand creation skillset. Ideas are a great way to reinforce the practice of creating demand before things ship, not after. SaaS companies that master this will have adoption and usage metrics that clobber their peers.
In the auto industry, there’s a great tradition of designing and building concept cars. Typically these eye-popping designs never make it to mass production, but they do still deliver a lot of value for the manufacturers. Here’s a great explanation from Car and Driver:
“Known universally as “concept cars,” these vehicular peacocks not only lay bare the heart and soul of an automaker’s design department, but they also often allow manufacturers a way to hint at certain styling elements and design themes that may weave their way into future production models.”
In SaaS, everyone likes to think of themselves as a trendsetter and leader, but few are out there actively showcasing a strong point of view and vision for the future. Ideas are a great way to let your customers and your industry know which direction you think things are going. Stop responding to the conversation and be the one starting it.
A common fear around sharing ideas has to do with competition. What if my competitors see the idea and copy it? It’s easy to overestimate your competition and think they’re an invincible force that can blow past you at any minute. The fact is, they often feel as lost in the woods as you do. Seeing your ideas is more likely to have the opposite effect, and keep them away from the direction you’re heading. They’ll assume you have a head start, deeper insights, and not want to be seen as a copycat. Do companies copy other companies? Of course. But typically it’s only the successful, market tested features and products that get copied—not concepts and ideas.
Does this sound familiar: customers leave feedback, and feel like it’s never addressed or acted upon. It’s one of the most universal tension points between company and customer. And let’s face it: “thanks for the feedback, we’ll pass this to the product team” doesn’t always create the most satisfying customer experience. Customers like to know their feedback is being heard. But realistically the instant gratification of building for every piece of customer feedback isn’t possible. Sharing ideas presents a nice middle area for both parties. Customers can see that their feedback is on your radar, and product teams don’t get boxed in by making too many roadmap promises.
Sharing ideas doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” approach. You can—and should—be selective about what ideas you decide to share. You can always share more or less, remove some ideas, and push others to the actual roadmap when appropriate.
LaunchNotes provides a powerful, user-friendly Product Success Platform with built-in tools for sharing ideas— as well as managing customer feedback, creating and updating changelogs, publishing product updates, and even designing product roadmaps.