Article in Product Development and Strategy, Startup categories.

Tough Love: How to Build Better Products Through Thoughtful Criticism

At Fueled, we use thoughtful critique and honest feedback to ensure our clients will build the best products possible.

Clients come to Fueled with a genuine passion and excitement to build better products. These are people who have spent countless hours pouring over competitive research and pitching their idea to friends and family, eagerly awaiting a positive reaction. Unfortunately, we’re not so quick to give that approval.

The Three Questions

office gif of Michael Scott explaining how to build better products
No, this isn't one of the questions we ask

Given our experience working with early-stage startups, we often approach product ideas with a series of blunt questions:

  1. What problem does your app solve?”
  2. “Which 10 people do you know who would download this app on Day 1?”
  3. “Do these users actually experience your hypothetical problem?”

This introspective questioning may come across as critical but ultimately is essential for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of an idea.

Fueled won’t be your best friend. We won’t enthusiastically nod along during your presentation because it makes you feel good. We push back and we challenge clients to find the gaps in a pitch. By taking the time to comb through a product in search of weaknesses, we’re better able to spot opportunities that might have been missed. Ultimately, this approach builds better products.

Long-Term State of Mind

The odds of surviving to your fifth year are better than expected (50% of new businesses reach this milestone, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics), but there is an outsized amount of uncertainty built into those early years. Understandably, founders look to their strategic partners for confidence in their work and ideas. Top clients who understand the Fueled process often started as skeptics. After all, it’s not standard for an agency to speak so candidly about areas that still need improvement or questions that we’ve yet to find an answer for.

chart from labor bureau showing how to build better products and how long those products stick around
Credit: Bureau of Labor Statistics

It’s this tough love approach that helps our clients build better products. We don’t simply ask for your trust but aim to earn it by being a partner in the product and long-term vision.

This criticism can be especially hard on a first-time founder who likely thinks of their project as their baby — fragile and yet so full of potential. In The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green, & Galford, the authors explain that every suggested improvement comes laced with critique. When working with Fueled, we push our founders to get comfortable with this criticism, as this outside perspective builds a stronger and more viable product for users.

We Want You to Build Better Products

While we don’t sugarcoat our feelings, we do care that you’re equipped to succeed on your own. When you hire Fueled, you hire a dedicated team who are here to problem solve along with you. We have expertise developing successful products, apps that grace the top of the App Store. But your project is unique - you are likely doing something new, and we are here to research and adapt to the new landscape.

Our team admits gaps in knowledge. We level with our clients and often rely on their domain expertise to inform our direction. Ultimately, we learn from our clients as true co-founders in product development. We want to set you down the right path to success and then walk that path alongside you, basking in the warmth of a prosperous product launch.

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