A Tech Entrepreneur’s Guide to Early Product Development

Key Roles: Product Owner and Product Manager — A Compass and a Map

  • Hypothesis: The product owner and product manager start out in the same place — collaborating on a hypothesis about the target users and the envisioned solution. The hypothesis is based upon limited evidence and many assumptions. It is a tool to answer these questions: “What do we believe, and how will we prove or disprove it?” The right hypothesis is the compass that keeps the startup’s orientation aimed at serving its clients’ needs.
  • User Focus: The goal is to understand and learn from users. The product owner gathers potential users of the product. This is a great opportunity to reach out to users who are in companies that you view as prospects. Exercise your networking skills with local business people, industry contacts, or university or professional organizations; you may compensate them or not. Somehow you want to keep them connected as a group. However, within that group, consider each person as an individual. What are their pains and their desires — pains that your solution might alleviate or desires and goals that your product might help them achieve. Ask questions and listen. All your product decisions should be driven by a user focus and validated with customers/users.
  • Prototype: Prototyping is a way to demonstrate the product to a potential user to get their feedback. Everything the startup learns while validating the hypothesis informs the building of the prototype. Prototyping takes on many different forms and paths to completion. Hardware prototypes use off-the-shelf parts; for software prototypes, wireframes are useful. Wireframes, screen blueprints that are a visual guide that represents the skeletal framework of an application. The goal is to get in front of customers, analyze their responses and iterate. That’s the basis for a customer-driven feature set.
  • Job Stories: Job stories connect the wireframes and personas. A job story is a powerful way to facilitate team conversation and discovery during product design. Job stories give the design process the context in which a real user will use the solution being designed to perform his or her actual job.
  • User Stories: A user story is a tool used in Agile software development to capture a description of a software feature from an end-user perspective. The user story describes the type of user, what they want from the product and why. A user story helps create a simplified description of a product requirement which leads to the features that get built into the product.
  • Epic and Features: An epic is a way to define a large part of the product that can then be broken down into smaller pieces. A feature captures what the user wants to do. An epic is essentially a large part of the product that can be broken down. It’s important to recognize that an epic can span more than one project and more than one version. Inside an epic are features, which capture what a user requires from the product. A feature cluster is a collection of like features that all belong to a single epic.


  • Customer validation comes first and drives the process from beginning to end.
  • Prototypes and minimally viable products (MVP) help users talk about the features they want and will buy.
  • Whether development is in-house or outsourced, the startup owns the result.



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