How to Come Up With a Winning Product Idea 101

Today I’m going to walk you through my process in coming up with winning product ideas.

One of the biggest mistakes new founders make is choosing the wrong product. You may launch an entire business based on a fundamentally flawed idea. It is possible to lose the game before you even begin.

And the problem is that most YouTube videos offer pretty terrible advice: like creating $20 copycat products to dropship.

But there is a right way of doing it. After selling 6 figures and launching both winners and losers, here is how I would come up with a winning product idea:

  • Live with your audience
  • Isolate a problem and solve it
  • Does it make enough profit?
  • Does it have lifetime value potential?
  • Can you build a brand out of it?

Step 1. Live with your audience

You cannot create a good product without understanding your audience. You may have heard that some products fail because they lack ‘product-market fit’. That’s because the founder launched a product that the market didn’t care about.

What I mean by living with your audience – is to immerse yourself into their way of thinking and understand HOW they live.

Seth Godin says the ‘core’ of understanding your audience is understanding the mantra “People like us, do things like this.”

At Binky Barker, my audience is dog parents. We do quirky things like use strollers for our dogs, celebrate their birthdays, take them swimming etc. Have you ever been to a dog birthday party?

dog birthday party

Tim Ferriss recommends you understand write out your audience’s psychographic profile. What do they fear? What do they desire? Where do they hang out on the internet? What channels do they follow?

By living with your audience, you understand what they want – learn what problems you can solve for them.

Step 2. Isolate a problem and solve it

Marketing is about solving problems to change your customer’s lives for the better. (Seth Godin)

Now that you know your audience inside and out – you want to find a problem to solve.

When I became a Keto dieter for 6 months, I gave up carbs, and low and behold, I got a headache. Turned out this was a chronic problem that Keto’ers faced – they got the “Keto Flu”. This was a problem.

When I immersed myself in the dog parent market, I noticed that most of the beds were fluffy, cheap and generally bad for a dog’s health. This was a problem.

Find a single problem – and create a product to solve it.

For the Keto diet – I created Keto Electrolytes, a supplement that combines 4 different electrolytes to solve the Keto flu. It’s now one of the best selling Keto supplements on Amazon.

For the dogs – we created the Binky Barker bed, a healthy dog bed that protects dogs’ joints.

Step 3. Does it make enough profit?

Now that you have a product that solves a market problem – you need to run a few red flag checks to make sure it actually makes business sense.

The first check is to know if it makes enough profit.

Ideally, you’ll be making over £30 in profit per sale, minimum.

Why? Because advertising – and any form of performance marketing – costs money. Acquiring new customers ain’t cheap, and more and more often now, it costs £20, £30, sometimes £50 in ad spend to acquire a single customer with Facebook ads.

You do not want to be the company making £5 profit per sale. That leaves you unable to advertise and severely cuts off your opportunities to grow.

Step 4. Does it have lifetime value potential?

If somebody buys your product, will they come back and buy it again? Or are there other related accessories and cross-sells they may want to buy?

In eCommerce, most of the profit comes after the first sale. So you want to be lining your customers up to buy other items in your catalog.

With my supplements, I have customers coming back 5, 6, 7 times. They spend hundreds of pounds at my store – and that makes it possible to spend a little bit extra on advertising to get that first sale.

If there is a high lifetime value potential – it adds a huge business opportunity.

Step 5. Can you build a brand out of it?

Finally you need to ask yourself several tough questions:

  • Am I willing to start a brand out of this product idea?
  • Am I willing to stake my time in solving this problem?
  • Is the purpose worth it?

I am a big believer in building purpose-first businesses. If you think the cause is worth it, that the problem is REALLY worth solving, you’re going to have a much more fun ride promoting it.

Let’s be real – for the next few months – or even years – you are going to be pitching this product. So you better believe in it.

With Binky Barker, our purpose is to give dogs happier lives. It’s a great purpose, and it’s one me and my wife are passionate about.

I hope this helps.

See you next week.

Practical Philosophy

The Obstacle is the Way

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

There is a strange idea repeated by Stoics: “the obstacle is the way.” The more I think about it, the more I think it is true. Here is why:

We must confront that which is difficult

It is hard to achieve that which is worth striving for. It can require years, sometimes a lifetime of hard work. To do so requires us to deliberately confront difficulty and face obstacles along our journey. There is no avoiding it. The alternative is to live in fear, or in a double life that we do not wish to live.

Obstacles form our identity

Many successful people tasted defeat in their early days. Henry Ford created two different car companies before creating the Ford Motor Company. Ulysses S. Grant was kicked out of the army for alcoholism before rejoining, and eventually helping the Union win the civil war.

We could say that early defeat can forge our identity. It can make us hungrier, more resilient, and give us a gratefulness when we achieve success.

We do it because it is difficult

“We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

John F. Kennedy

Sometimes, we do things because they are difficult. We like a challenge – we need a challenge. We play the game because the game is difficult.

Practical Philosophy

Things I Learned This Week #2

#1 – It is not what a person said, it is why they said it at that moment

I’m hunting for a flat to rent in London. The market is tough. Apparently it’s never been tougher.

Last week, one estate agent told me they had only 50 enquiries for a flat in Aldgate East. 50! Looks like I had no chance. However, the day after my viewing, the estate agent called me again and asked if I was still interested. Did she really have 50 bookings? Or was it a scarcity tactic?

In Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss says that it is not what a person says that you should pay attention to in a negotiation, but why they said it at that moment.

#2 – Focus on what is controllable, everything else is a distraction

I have started to notice how people often get effected by events entirely out of their control – like getting annoyed by badly parked cars, or by Boris Johnson, or the Tennis, etc.

One of the key doctrines of Stoicism is that of Perception. Essentially, we need to perceive what truly matters to protect our minds. The first thing we should do is to filter out what is entirely out of our control. Like getting pissed off by a parked car. That will never end and you will end up getting entirely derailed because you cannot control your emotions.

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius advised himself “Not to be overwhelmed by what you imagine, but just do what you can and should.”

Ignore the external – and focus inwards – on your thoughts which you can control.

#3 – Appreciate the moment

When you see a cat in the street, pet it. That’s one of the lessons from 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson.

I remembered the lesson when I was walking with my parents in the park. I had a moment where I thought that in 20 years we may not be able to do this together as a family again. It really made me appreciate the present moment.

Then, we started talking about laundry and other worries of the future (where am I going to stay in London etc). It reminded me that oftentimes we forget to enjoy the moment and think about the past and future.

#4 – Agreeing to your emotions is a choice

Previously I had known that we had to control our emotions and always act with dignity, but when push comes to shove, it’s hard to know exactly how. It can feel like fighting your natural instincts.

Recently, I did a post on the stoic concept of Assent. The idea is that we should protect our minds by not always agreeing (assenting) to our first impressions.

The reason for this is that our impressions of events tend to combine (1) the objective event with (2) our subjective value judgement of it. For example, the waiter doesn’t smile it me is an objective event. My subjective value judgement may be that they don’t like me. That’s entirely in my head.

“What is outside my mind means nothing to it. Absorb that lesson and your feet stand firm.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

So when the combined impression comes to our evaluation. There is a moment where we can consciously say yes or no to it. Do we let it assent to our inner citadel? (our soul, so to speak). An interesting remark is that we are a collection of our assents.

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

My friend told me this is similar to what Buddha said. I guess it really is true that wise men throughout history tend to reach the same conclusions.

Practical Philosophy

Don’t Always Agree with Your Impressions

It is illogical and harmful to always accept our first impressions.

Previously, I posted about the the doctrine of Perception by Marcus Aurelius and how we tend to add an unhealthy portion of subjective interpretation into what we see around us.

In this post, I want to reflect on a similar and very practical doctrine from Traditional Stoicism that I read today: The doctrine of assent.

According to Ted Brannan, Philosophy and Classics professor at Cornell, the doctrine of Assent is “the linchpin of the Stoic system.” It is our ability to agree (assent to) or disagree with our own first impressions.

The flow of events

The best way to understand the doctrine of Assent is to picture the flow of our thoughts.

  1. Event – The circumstance that presents itself. e.g. A car cuts us off.
  2. Value Judgement – The judgement we make about the event. e.g. That driver doesn’t follow the rules. He is rude and a bad person.
  3. Impression – The combination of the event and your value judgement, presented like a ticket. e.g. The car cut me off + he is a rude and bad person.
  4. Assent – Your choice to either agree with or discard the impression “ticket” presented to you.
  5. Inner Citadel – Your mind, your soul, your character. The thoughts you let assent to your inner citadel make up who you are.

Protecting our Inner Citadel

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. You soul takes on the quality of your thoughts.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I believe that letting in accurate information may be different from letting in the right information. Why? Because it’s all too easy to get consumed by negative thoughts.

If I read the news in the morning, stories of murder, violence and the darker side of humanity effects me. Now I try not to read the news as often as I used to. I make an effort to protect my mind.

When we assent to negative impressions – cursing the world – cursing people – this colours our soul. We begin to see the world in a negative light. Small, innocent details reinforce our view that the world is bad.

Don’t accept the first impression

Hastily accepting our first impressions not only harms us, it’s illogical. The stoics argued that most impressions are a mixture of “what really happened” with a healthy dose of subjective judgements (which can get extremely subjective if not checked).

  • The man didn’t smile at me. – The objective event that occurs.
  • The man is rude. – My subjective interpretation of the event.

If I agree (assent) to this impression, I’m accepting it with circumstantial evidence that I couldn’t possibly know for certain. How can I know he is rude? Can I read his mind? Do I know his malicious intent?

It’s harmful and illogical to always accept first impressions as absolute truth. Check what you think before you let it assent to your inner citadel.

Practical Philosophy

Understand the Limits of Your Perception

“It is not objects and events but the interpretations we place on them that are the problem.”

Gregory Hays, Foreward to Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The way that we perceive the world often causes us to become upset, angry and emotional.

That’s why the first of the three doctrines of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is Perception. Fix the way you see things by separating the reality from your interpretation.

Jumping to Conclusions

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when something (or somebody) bothers you.

When I lived in Thailand, I remember several times where people would jump queues. It would infuriate me.

In one instance, I was in the checkout line, when an old Chinese lady walked right by me to the till. Barely holding in my contempt, I told her “I was here first.” She apologised and went to the back of the line. I was angry for hours.

To me, walking past me in the queue was her taking advantage of me. She thought she could run me over. She thought that her time was more important than mine.

Separating the Reality from our Interpretation

Marcus Aurelius was careful to separate perception into 2 parts:

  • What objectively happened
  • Our interpretation/judgement of the situation.

In this case, what objectively happened was that the old lady jumped past me in the queue.

However, it was my interpretation that she was deliberately taking advantage of me. This was a judgement I had made. A conclusion I had come to.

In the land of abstract interpretation, anything is up to our imagination. Maybe she didn’t understand the concept of queues. Maybe she didn’t see me. Maybe she didn’t see the queue at all. The truth is that I would never know.

“You take things you don’t control and define them as “good” or “bad.” And so of course when the “bad” things happen, or the “good” ones don’t, you blame the gds and feel hatred for the people responsible – or those you decide to make responsible.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

On Reddit, a user also gave another example perception gone awry. In this case, you order a coffee from a Barista. He takes your order, doesn’t say a word, makes it, and gives it to you. “He is a rude person” you think to yourself.

How Far Do We Go?

For the sake of our mental well-being and avoiding negative spirals, it’s wise to keep things objective. Avoid making drastic conclusions on small things.

This is a problem a lot of people have. They turn small things into big problems. In Discovering Personality, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson introduces us to the pyramid of abstraction.

We start at the bottom of the pyramid. This is where things are most concrete and “real”: the Barista didn’t talk.

Now you could leave it at that. However, once we start entering the realm of interpretation, things begin getting more abstract.

First, we can interpret the situation: He is a rude barista. Then, we may go further up the pyramid of abstraction – all baristas are rude. Then we may think that people in general are rude. Eventually, we may take this to indicate that society is bad.

If we don’t check ourselves, it is entirely possible to go this far up. How many people do you know who have a tendency to say things like”

  • “Oh this teenager is shouting outside… We are a broken society”
  • “Oh this item is broken… The Chinese can’t make anything good.”
  • “Oh this bank overcharged me… The bankers are out to get us.”
  • “Oh I made a mistake preparing lunch… I am a bad father.”

Whether you believe an interpretation to be true or not, you should ask yourself “How healthy is it to think this way?”

“You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Constrain the Problem to Its Objective Truth

The solution, according to Jordan Peterson, is to constrain the problem to the smallest thing it really is.

What specifically happened? OK, the bank over-charged you. OK, you messed up lunch. The is the reality.

Be careful when you are tempted to add your own impressions into the mix.

Whatever you do, don’t climb too far up the pyramid of abstraction and eventually condemn society.

In the end, we have to protect our minds.

Do not think the world is out to get you and create a personal hell for yourself. Don’t make something bigger than it really is.

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Practical Philosophy

Never outshine the master

“When the party began, Fouquet was at the top of the world. By the time it had ended, he was at the bottom.”

Voltaire, 1694-1778

In The 48 Laws of Power, author Robert Greene teaches us an important lesson from history: Be careful never to outshine the master. Or, for that matter, anybody.

The Story

When Nicholas Fouquet, France’s Finance Minister, threw the best party France had ever seen, King Louis XIV seethed with jealousy. The day after the party, King Louix XIV imprisoned Fouquet on false charges, executed him, and then replaced him with a new (much more boring) minister.

The Lesson

Fouquet outshined the master. He did not realise that by shining so bright, he was making the king appear dull and was becoming a threat.

He did not realise that even a King had deep insecurities about being seen as the brightest, smartest, and most socially connected person in France.

Whether in a workplace or personal setting, it’s important to remember to not make other people look inadequate. Remember, people are driven by their emotions.

Instead, Robert Greene says it is wise to downplay your successes. “Oh, it wasn’t all that easy.” Control what you say.

Give credit to other people. Thank them for their advice and continued support. Be humble.

Practical Philosophy

It’s better to hunt in packs

Think of the grizzly bear. A solitary predator. Many years ago, people would pit bears to fight against tigers, and even lions. The bear would always win. It is perhaps the strongest land-based predator alive, except for one:

Humans. The ultimate hunters. Humans have been responsible for the extinction of every mammal in the last 126,000 years. Unlike bears, humans have historically hunted in groups, working together with tools to bring down larger prey.

Sports and business are similar to hunting. In football, the team works together to hit the target. In business, the people work together to build wealth.

So how do we measure our predatory instinct? According to Jordan Peterson, we can measure it with agreeableness. Agreeableness is how often we prioritise the interests of others over our own. The higher you are, the more you put others first. Jordan Peterson says is related to the maternal instinct – women tend to be higher in agreeableness.

On the flip side, the less agreeable you are, the more predatory you are in nature. You put your own interests first before others. At the extremely low end, low agreeableness is a great predictor of incarceration.

I’m low in agreeableness:

Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. People who are less agreeable are more likely to get raises, for example. They ask for it. People who are too highly agreeable try to help others too much, and in the process don’t look out for themselves.

Taking the test and revealing my low agreeableness was quite enlightening – and amusing. For one thing, I work in customer success, which is all about helping other people. However, I think that this reveals that we need to work together. For me to reach my goals, I need to help my clients reach theirs. The same goes for working in a team versus going it alone:

It’s better to hunt in packs.

Practical Philosophy

Break monsters down

Sometimes we face problems that we don’t think we can solve.

“Oh, I can’t talk to her.”

“I don’t think I can give this presentation.”

“I am too shy to ask for a raise.”

In such instances, we are confronted by Chaos; the terrifying unknown and all of its possibilities. Our imagination conjures up scenarios of all the possible negative outcomes – rejection, humiliation, and so on.

In Discovering Personality, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson recommends a solution to dealing with the anxiety these situations induce. He says we should break down large problems into smaller, precise problems, and then voluntarily confront them.

Let’s look at the first problem, “Oh, I can’t talk to her.” Let’s break down the problem of asking out a girl into smaller challenges to build confidence. Could we talk to a stranger, perhaps? Could we smile at a stranger?

When we break down the problem, the monster shrinks. We shine a light into the darkness, and turn chaos into order. Things don’t seem so scary once we break them down into smaller problems. Focus on making incremental gains than giant leaps, just like when tackling procrastination.

Practical Philosophy

Don’t say too much

“It is even more damaging for a minister to say foolish things than to do them.”

Cardinal de Retz, 1613–1679

Growing up, we are often told to say what we think. However, this can often be damaging. Remember, words have unintended consequences.

When we feel the need to gossip, we need to stop and think of the consequences of doing so. Both from the outside (how can anybody trust talking to us if they know we gossip) and from the inside (how can we live with ourselves after doing what we know is wrong).

At its roots, the need to say everything we think results from a lack of emotional control. We really really really want to say something, so we do. We want others to make others laugh, create drama, and seem interesting.

I’m not saying we should bottle up our thoughts and feelings. Instead, I propose that before we say something, we should stop and think of the consequences first.

Practical Philosophy

Never lose your temper in public

When Napoleon publicly lost his temper, his minister Tellyrand rightly predicted “This is the beginning of the end.”

Losing your temper in public always looks ridiculous. It shows others that we cannot control ourselves – and a person who cannot control themselves is not worthy of respect.

The truth is: Anger always looks out of proportion.

In the heat of the moment it may feel like we are standing up for the right thing. However, other people around us have no idea on the background of the situation, or share the exact same feelings as we do. To others, it often just looks like some crazy angry guy unnecessarily losing his cool. Remember rage-quitters in Call of Duty?

Instead, a better way is to always be mindful of how your behaviour looks from the outside. Wear the crown and always act with dignity and self-respect. Be mindful and learn to control your own emotions, or let them control you.

Notes from The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene