Example Product Roadmap

Written by Paul on April 21st, 2010

I built the original version of MailFinch, an on-demand direct mail platform, in a few hours about six months ago. Today we’re sending a couple thousand letters a month and growing at a nice clip. Rather than give you hand-wavy advice about how you should do it, I’ll simply tell you how I did it.

MailFinch Product Roadmap

1) Core Product: Create Letter and Accept Money

  • I wanted people to be able to upload a letter and send it.
  • Before they actually could send it, they need to pay me. Paypal made it easy to accept money on day #1. (Incidentally, I made my first sale about five hours after the site launched.)

1A) Analytics

  • Google Analytics is free. Install it.
  • Setup goal tracking. (In my case, the goal was to successfully create a letter and pay for it.)
  • Start reviewing the sender and recipients of each letter to see if a pattern emerges. (In my case, we collect physical addresses for both and we’ve got the sender’s email address.)

2) Focus on Repeat Users: Same Users + More Letters = $$$

  • Talk to users. (I can’t stress this enough.)
  • Review analytics. Daily. You’re looking for any patterns that appear — common email domains, common sender/recipient address attributes, etc.
  • Reach out to users that have sent more than one letter. Why are they using us? How did they do this before? What else do they want to see?
  • Prioritize bugfixes and feature requests by the amount of money a customer spends with you.

3) Increase Traffic and Stickiness: More Users + Same Users = $$$!

  • Once the core product is done (major bugs are dead, new features are coming/deployed), it’s time to think about how to grow. Do this by making the product stickier and/or increasing traffic. (Ideally, do both.)
  • Lightweight CRM capabilities — manage contacts, tasks, lists and campaigns from one portal.
  • Easy one-click contact importing via Highrise, Salesforce, Batchbook, etc.
  • Find as many local newspapers as possible. Start cold calling real estate agents and insurance agents that have a half-page (or larger) print ad — these people have money and presumably understand the value of direct marketing.

3A) Analytics for traffic growth features

  • A/B testing frameworks are nice, but expensive to setup. Focus on quick “deep dives” into your database to answer specific questions. (eg, for a user that has more than 1,000 contacts uploaded, how often do they login? How many letters do they send each day/week/month? How have they segregated their lists?
  • Basic cohort analyses are really helpful for tracking new user signups each week. They’re even more helpful when you know what new features were deployed on a given week. Use Excel, you don’t need anything fancy.

This road map isn’t designed to be some sort of checklist that you work your way through. Instead, you’ll probably find yourself doing the same thing I did — repeating #2 for while until it’s becoming clear that a real customer need exists. Item #3 is still a work in progress for me, we’re about halfway through that list of things but it’s looking pretty promising so far.

If nothing else, remember the core of this road map:

  1. Launch the first version ASAP. Ugly is fine, it just needs to work.
  2. Start talking to customers. Your mom/wife/dog is probably not a customer, go pick up the phone.
  3. Repeat and Iterate.

Now, go make some money.

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