A great startup product needs more than just software, says :Different co-founder Mina Radhakrishnan

Mina Radhakrishnan

:Different co-founders Ruwin Perera and Mina Radhakrishnan. Source: Supplied.

When you’re building a tech startup, creating a great product is the most important thing, until it isn’t, according to Mina Radhakrishnan, co-founder of rental property management startup :Different.

Speaking at the Above All Human conference in Melbourne on Wednesday, Radhakrishnan revealed :Different will be launching in Melbourne “very soon”, marking the startup’s first expansion out of Sydney.

An early employee at Uber, joining as head of product when the car-sharing giant had around 20 employees, Radhakrishnan founded :Different with her husband and co-founder Ruwin Perera in late 2016, raising $1.3 million in seed funding about a year later.

When you’re trying to build a great product, “the hard thing is making it feel like no effort went into it at all”, Radhakrishnan told conference attendees yesterday.

She compared the customer experience of using a traditional taxi service to using Uber, describing the difference as “night and day”.

It’s not just about the product you’re producing, “it’s about the experience”, she said.

“There are no books, no how-to guides, no silver bullets, no frameworks.”

However, there are some fundamental things founders can to do to get them thinking “very deeply about what the problem is”.

Know your pain point

Product people have a lot of ideas, Radhakrishnan said, but they can’t make those ideas a reality until “we actually know what the pain is”.

Entrepreneurs may think they understand the problem they’re setting out to solve, but they won’t understand the full extent of the pain until they’ve felt it themselves.

As an example, Radhakrishnan described the signup process for :Different. Using paper documents was inconvenient and time-consuming, so the startup introduced e-signing as a solution.

However, people were still taking eight to 12 days to return the contracts. The team tried filling out the contracts themselves, and found the process onerous to say the least.

Eventually, they created a simple form that auto-filled the document, allowing users to read it over, “then you’re done”, Radhakrishnan said.

Now, contracts typically come back within three days.

“There’s a difference between feeling the pain and knowing the pain,” Radhakrishnan added.

Build the software

If feeling the pain is one thing and understanding it is another, then articulating and addressing it is another again.

In order to build a solution, founders should work with different people who understand the issue but “approach it from a different point of view”.

When thinking about the product, founders should consider “what are the specific things that are frustrating”, said Radhakrishnan.

If you’re talking about an app, it could be about how to pay, or how to pinpoint a location.

It’s about making things as easy as possible for the customer through things like “simple touch processes”, which can also help companies easily collect “data that means they can do something about the problem”.

But look beyond the software, too

“It doesn’t end with software,” Radhakrishnan said, and this is the “difference between thinking about product and thinking about experiences”.

“Experiences don’t end at the submit button,” she said.

You can’t just build software for experience. The technology is a facilitator, but “you cannot get rid of people”, she said.

With a platform like :Different, a lot of problems can be solved through the technology, but if a tree falls on a house “no technology is in place that’s actually going to be able to solve that problem”, said Radhakrishnan.

“That’s why we need to look beyond the software,” she added.

NOW READ: Four lessons on customer-focused innovation from Uber’s Susan Anderson


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