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5 Product Development Examples and Why They Work

Will Lam


Lots of products fail. From Betamax to Google Glass, there are hundreds of examples of the product development process going wrong. Whether it’s confusion around priorities and task management or a lack of customer understanding, taking a product from idea through to release is rife with potential issues.

You can mitigate the risk of falling prey to these complications with a solid product development strategy. It’s much easier to understand the various processes that go into building an engaging product when you can see it in the real world.

Each of the following product development examples provides an overview of the development process for various companies across a number of different industries. Our goal is to highlight how important it is to see the product development life cycle in action and learn from other companies’ successes.

1. Netflix

Netflix started out as a DVD rental platform. Now, as one of the most popular over-the-top (OTT) platforms on the market, Netflix’s shift toward streaming media is a great case study in how to evolve alongside market trends. And their subsequent move from licensing existing media to producing original content shows a deep understanding of what customers want from an OTT streaming company.

There’s a common theme that occurs when we take a look at Netflix’s history—their goal of removing friction for customers. At key points in their evolution, Netflix identified a need in the market and developed a product to address it.

Whether it was easy access to DVDs in the early days, or account profiles and on-demand streaming today, each decision Netflix makes is grounded in deep user insights. Each update has helped them steadily increase their pricing as well.

History of Netflix pricing via Statista

So as Netflix has continued to add value, they’ve iterated on the product experience, pricing model, and content to continually address problems their users face. This has tied their product development strategy to both business goals and customers’ needs and given Netflix the ability to capture more revenue as the company grows.

Being able to anticipate changing market trends and customer expectations is how Netflix has grown into one of the most popular OTT streaming platforms on the market. And, in many ways, they have fundamentally changed how modern consumers interact with media.

2. Houseparty

The second of our five product development examples is face-to-face social media app, Houseparty. They are an excellent example of how product development happens in small, incremental changes. As a tool for connecting with individuals and small groups, they needed ways to increase user engagement as their platform grew. Houseparty leveraged A/B testing and experimentation to gain more insight into where customers experienced the most friction with the app.

Why did they focus on user engagement? Because that’s the metric that best illustrates the value of their product for customers. Through their tests, Houseparty grew their understanding of what was causing a decrease in user engagement and identified an opportunity for change in their onboarding process.

These A/B tests targeted specific types of users in their customer base and used feature flagging to test new features.

By making incremental changes to the onboarding process, they saw increases to key usage metrics within their app:

  • 15% increase in user-contact permission
  • 9% increase in opt-ins for push notifications

3. HubSpot

As one of the most popular marketing and sales automation platforms on the market, HubSpot shows us how to build a vertical product at scale. They started out as a customer relationship management tool (CRM) but now have features for marketers, salespeople, and customer support. With the various types of tasks required across these departments, HubSpot needs to understand a lot of different types of people.

HubSpot took the customer data and user information gathered via their CRM tool and used it to identify areas where they could expand their product.

Much of their product development in the early years was centered around a strategic North Star, specifically “Inbound Marketing.” The term, one that HubSpot originally coined, informed every decision they made in the early days of developing their product ecosystem. It’s how they built The Flywheel.

The customer delight flywheel via HubSpot

This high-level framework helped HubSpot’s team understand the work that they do as well as how it makes an impact on customers and the business. Their product designers used lean product development methodology to identify the needs of their customers, like their marketing automation tool. As a CRM plus content management system (CMS), expanding into automation was a great choice.

Customers could use HubSpot to publish content and track customer relationships, but needed another service to connect with those customers at scale. Using that insight, HubSpot built out a platform for connecting the CRM and CMS to automated emails, social media, and blog posts.

4. PopSockets

In 2012, David Barnett, Philosophy Professor at University of Colorado at Boulder, founded PopSockets. Popsockets is an interesting case study that shows how one individual's "life hack" can be refined into a consumer product with high demand. Barnett first created the PopSocket to make it easier for him to hold and store headphone cords with his phone.

His invention grew increasingly popular, and eventually, removable smartphone grips became a consumer product. Barnett marketed the product as an easy way to hold smartphones with one hand or prop them up on a table. But he moved into the B2B market when the ability to add custom branding gained popularity in the promotional products market.

This evolution is the result of a clear understanding of market trends. PopSockets gave companies the ability to create a branded item to give away for a relatively nominal fee, making it a perfect addition to conference swag bags. When Barnett identified this opportunity in the market, he pivoted the business to increase the level of customization available in the product.

Example PopSockets via Instagram

Personalization gave the product more inherent value in an entirely new customer segment as well. And it gave rise to a completely new revenue stream for the company. Now, PopSockets offers a number of different promotional items, each customizable to the customer’s specific designs.

This is why intensive research is always a part of the planning and discovery stages of product development. When you have a clear understanding of how the market perceives your product, it’s easier to build features to meet customer expectations.

5. Dropbox

Dropbox is the final one in our list of product development examples. Starting out as a file-sharing platform, their platform has evolved into an organizational tool for teams based on findings from their usage data. As a peer-to-peer platform, Dropbox’s early goal was to simplify the process of sharing information between individuals.

This evolution occurred naturally, as Dropbox’s cloud-based file-sharing capabilities meshed well with office tools for remote teams. According to an interview on First Round Review, Dropbox used both bottom-up and top-down development processes, meaning any member of the Dropbox team could provide feedback on the direction of the product. Click here to read why employs a similar culture of experimentation that encourages any and all team members to give feedback and insight on a given project.

As a single-user product at the beginning, features like version history, folder management, and admin privileges grew out of customers collaborating with their teams using Dropbox’s product. When their team identified a need for collaborative documentation, for example, they rolled out Dropbox Paper.

Dropbox Paper product spec example via Dropbox

Teams often use Dropbox to share information between various teams and individuals within an organization, so creating a feature to make collaborating across these groups easier made sense. Dropbox identified an existing customer pain point and came up with a solution that worked.

Understanding how to take these customer pain points and turn them into viable features is what made Dropbox successful in the long run. As their product suite grew, their company started to appeal to more and more teams, which fuelled the introduction of a Dropbox Business platform specifically for that market. This kind of evolution is possible only when you have a solid product development process in place.

Product Development Creates Value for Your Business

Taking a product or feature from an initial "conception" stage to fully releasing it to your entire user base is no small feat. (Not to mention, being able to release features that your users want frequently and quickly is the name of the game in the digital world.) Having a feature management platform like DevCycle in place helps you better understand your users' needs, solve their problems, and position new products or features correctly. Create your account to get started today!

Written By

Will Lam