Building Software Products At Startups

Perfect for entrepreneurs and product managers wishing to learn how to build products that customers actually want
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  • Lectures 44
  • Length 3 hours
  • Skill Level Intermediate Level
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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    Available on iOS and Android
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About This Course

Published 9/2015 English

Course Description

This course is for people looking to make a change and jump into one of the best career opportunities in technology. Product managers are some of the highest paid employees at technology companies, and it's a proven training ground for starting your own company.

You should take this course if you're looking to make a change or if you want to build your own product from scratch. By the end of the course, you'll have validated an idea and started working on the MVP of your product to test your assumptions.

During this course you'll hear from experts in product management, UX and design, engineering, and venture capital.

The course is structured as follows:

  1. Introduction to product management and products
  2. The tactics and exercises that can help you turn your dream product into a reality
  3. Building products at companies and the processes that technology companies typically use to create awesome software

What are the requirements?

  • Nothing. Just come prepared to learn and share your ideas with the class.
  • Most of the class is a hands on experience iterating on a product idea, so come prepared with an idea on how to improve an existing idea or create something entirely new!

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Demonstrate an understanding of product management
  • Communicate and iterate on an idea with customer validation
  • Validate a product and figure out how to test the riskiest assumptions of a product

Who is the target audience?

  • This course is meant for people looking to make a career change into product management or for first-time entrepreneurs hoping to learn the skills required to iterate and validate a new product idea. This course is not for people with prior product management experience.

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.


Section 1: Get started on your journey to building amazing products

Welcome to the class, and thank you for signing up! The goal for the class is that you feel ready to build software products, whether it's at a startup, a larger company, or on your own. You'll hear from experts, participate in exercises, read blog posts, and listen to lectures about best-practices on your path toward understanding how you can build amazing products. There are optional materials included in many classes, which I recommend you read. I've picked a list of books and blog posts that I've found valuable.

Enjoy the class, and let's get started!


Feel free to skip this video, but I thought I'd introduce myself to the class. Please share your background, name, current job, what you hope to learn during this class. I'm going to watch the course dialogue closely, provide feedback whenever you share, and try to answer any of your questions to the best of my ability.

Enjoy the class, and thank you for signing up!


Agenda for the course - you should be able to answer these questions:

  • What is a product?
  • Who is a product manager?
  • What steps do you need to take to build a product or a new feature? Go from idea to customer validation and translate that into a testable product
  • What processes and techniques do Scrum teams use to iteratively build great products?
  • How can you become a product manager and what should you do to transition into this role?
7 pages

These are the 45 blog posts, articles, books, and videos that I reference throughout this class. I highly recommend that you read or watch these. Everything I've learned is from the product experts in these books. These go into significantly more detail about each of the tools and techniques I teach in the class. The links are broken into these sections:

  • What is product management?
  • Starting a new product or business
  • Using Psychology to build products people love
  • Learning and iterating to build products people love
  • Product managers have to lead without authority
  • Using design processes to empathize with your customers
  • Scaling your product strategy and internal communication
2 pages

What is your favorite product and why? Think about the question and leave your answer in the class description. If you're looking for some inspiration on great products, check out Product Hunt. I recommend you subscribe to their daily newsletter to hear about new products being created every day.


Product managers are owners of a business. You are a teammate, not a boss. You're an excellent communicator, and you love creating amazing things that will make your customers' lives better.

A product manager is:
  • The mini CEO
  • An excellent communicator
  • The voice of the customer
  • The expert on the market
  • Technical (enough)
  • A motivator
  • A team player
  • A listener
A product manager is NOT:
  • A project manager
  • A developer
  • A designer
  • A gopher
  • A customer support rep
  • The boss
  • The dictator

Building products at startups is one of the best jobs in the world; I hope that's why you signed up for this class! Nick walks through the product development processes at Betterment and what the differences are between managing a consumer product and a product that you sell to other businesses.

What is a product?
4 questions
Section 2: Building the Minimum Viable Product

This section of the class is a hands on exercise to help you iterate on a product you already enjoy using or one that you'd love to create from scratch. You'll learn about:

  • The Business Model Canvas
  • Building customer empathy
  • Understanding your value proposition
  • Setting a vision and communicating it
  • Testing your assumptions

Jesse is a Partner at IA Ventures, which focuses on seed-stage investments. He breaks down what he looks for in a product, startup, and founding team.

Class project
2 questions

Product managers are business owners. You need to define the business value your product will create. Don't waste time on documentation and specs. Instead, quickly write down your assumptions and then go talk to customers to validate what your plan is.


The Facebook business model is simple. Entertain people with great content, collect massive amounts of data on them, entice advertisers with the opportunity to create highly targeted ads, and charge the advertisers for those ads. This business model has turned Facebook into a ~$250bn company.

3 questions

Please take the time to create the Business Model Canvas for your product. Share the link in the class discussion


Throughout the class, I'll walk through the same exercises that you're doing with the example being the company I founded, Arkad. The business failed, but I hope the live example gives you an opportunity to see the exercises I'm asking you to do applied to another product.


To build empathy, you must leave the office and speak to your customers. Find any way possible to locate potential customers. Buy them coffee, interrupt them when they're walking down the street, visit them at their office - do anything you can to interview and get to know them.


Mark was the Head of UX and Design at Shutterstock for five years. He shares a ton of wisdom about designing for a great user experience.

I've also included a link to one of the best product management books, Inspired, by Marty Kagan.


Think about why your customer is going to hire your product. What job/goal are they trying to achieve with your product. How did they get this job done in the past? Your competition is the method that they were able to achieve their goal in the past. If you're creating a pizza ordering application, your customers are hiring you to get them pizza at home. They achieved this by calling their local pizza restaurant, placing an order, and waiting for the delivery person to arrive at their front door. Or they may have baked a DiGiorno. Before delivery was an option, your customers may have picked up the pizza on their own or created the pizza from scratch.


People are hiring Facebook for entertainment, to know what their friends are up to. People have always found platforms to be social and share ideas. In the 1600s, the social network was the new coffee houses that were popping up all around London. You can read about that here -

3 questions

Take the time to categorize your customer segments based on the jobs they're trying to get done. Why are they hiring your product? What were they doing before to get their jobs done?


The jobs we were trying to help people do at Arkad were making it easier to collect and share information. Before this, companies were used to sharing presentations and excel files with their investors. The collection of the data was very cumbersome and difficult for an investor to reconcile across the portfolio.

4 questions

Take a break from the class, and talk to some of your potential customers. Try to learn what their goals are, what pains they have, and what are they trying to solve with a product.


I highly recommend you take a look at the book connected to this class. It's a very simple step-by-step guide on different strategies for creating valuable products.


I decided to deviate from the Arkad example to explain my understanding of the value proposition of this class to one of the customer segments I'm targeting with this class - I call this segment the "Career Changer." Sorry about the lighting on this lecture, but hopefully you find it valuable!

1 page

Once you spend the time to breakdown your customer profiles, rank the importance of their jobs, pains, and gains. As you're designing your product, make sure you're solving for the most important in each category, so you can deliver a valuable experience to your customers.

3 questions

Take the time to understand each of your customer segments' Jobs, Pains, and Gains. Write these down and try to rank the importance of each.


Amazon uses a great tool for setting a vision for every new product they create. Before any work is done, the product manager and team write a press release as if it were the day before the delivery of the product. If they cannot articulate the value and vision for the product succinctly and get the team excited about what they're going to deliver, no work is started.

Each press release has the following components:

  • Heading – Name the product in a way your target customer would understand
  • Sub-Heading – One sentence describing the market and benefits of the product
  • Summary – Give a summary of the product and benefit
  • Problem – Describe the problem your product solves
  • Solution – How do you elegantly solve that problem
  • Customer Quote – Pretend a customer is telling you their favorite part of the app
4 questions

Your product vision must inspire and effectively communicate the goals of what you're building.

1 page

This press release represents approximately three months of work for the NewsCred analytics team that we're hoping to accomplish in the Fall of 2015.


A well designed product has a unique voice and stands for something. This should be at the core of every product decision and every feature the team implements.

Checkout the book linked in the external resources. Design is a clear competitive advantage in product today. I really enjoyed the author's perspective on building software products with a focus on design-centric processes and strategies.


The MVP is the smallest iteration required to test the hypotheses you've made. Every time you implement new features or build a new product, you must identify your riskiest assumptions and find ways to test if you can overcome them. Your most precious resource is time; don't waste it on something that you could have de-risked.


Spotify has a fantastic graphic (included in the class resources) that describes the difference between iteratively building a great product and not doing so.

Every version of your product must teach you something and deliver value to your customers. You shouldn't develop features in a vacuum, and your customer's definitely won't use something that delivers no value.


I believe that you should be using the MVP model no matter how big or successful your product becomes. We try to apply MVPs at every iteration at NewsCred, so we don't invest heavily in something that our clients don't actually want.


Matt Doumar was the VP of Innovation at SinglePlatform. SinglePlatform did an incredible job de-risking it's hairiest assumptions early on, and were quickly rewarded for that with a stellar growth trajectory and a $100 million acquisition.


As your building new products and features, you should take the time to do things in an unscalable way. Recently, we were testing a product idea at NewsCred in which our clients would get a list of people who were reading their articles. There was a hypothesis that our clients wanted to see defined segments of people based on interests. So, instead of engineering that, we downloaded the data and created Excel files that broke down the customer segments for them. We then presented this to our clients and asked them whether or not they found it valuable. We cannot keep doing this for all of our clients, but it was a good, quick test that we could do by hand once to find out if we our hypotheses were correct.


My startup, Arkad, failed because we took too long to test our riskiest assumption. We should have spent our time early on testing the business model with unscalable tactics, like manual labor, rather than spending 6 months building software. Six months building software while living in NYC is an expensive endeavor that we could have avoided with better tests upfront.

3 questions

Think about the riskiest assumptions with your product. How will you test them? What can you do today that is unscalable to prove the value of your product?


You can hook your users with habit loops.

  • Trigger - Employ external triggers, like emails and notifications. But you need to rely on an internal trigger, which should ideally be something that people feel or remember on their own, without your prompting.
  • Action - Make it as easy as possible for your customers to take an action that leads them to a reward for acting on your trigger.
  • Reward - Your reward should be variable, i.e. the customer should not know what the reward will be until they see it. For example, Facebook doesn't tell you which photo your friend liked in its email. You have to log in to see the photo.
  • Investment - Prompt the user to make another investment in the product, so they're encouraged to come back through the habit loop again.

I'm definitely addicted to checking Instagram. Here's how their product takes advantage of a habit forming loop.

  • Trigger - I have a #FOMO (fear of missing out) on seeing what my friends are up to, and I receive app notifications on my phone.
  • Action - I open the app and scroll through my feed.
  • Reward - I see my friends' newest photos quickly, and I find out how many people have liked my photos or commented on them.
  • Investment - Social pressure encourages me to like my friends photos, and show everyone what I'm up to by taking a photo through the convenient photo button, which is displayed at the bottom of the app at all times.
3 questions

Detail out some of your assumptions on how you want to hook your users.


Although we never made it this far, I thought I'd enumerate what our habit loop might have looked like if I were to start the same business again.


You can steal customers by being better at the habit loop than your competition:

  • Faster actions - Make it easier to take the actions required.
  • Better rewards - Give something better for investing their time with your product than your competition does.
  • Higher frequency triggers - make the triggers happen more frequently (psychological or external). Toothpaste only became popular in the US in the 1900s when an advertiser took advantage of a common habit (licking one's teeth) and turned it into a trigger to brush teeth. Also, the unnecessary tingling feeling made people crave the reward of that feeling of success.
Section 3: Building products at companies

It's not an easy job, but that's what makes it amazing. The key to being successful is great communication.


At NewsCred, we recently increased the transparency into our product prioritization process. We used an auction process (detailed in blog posts below) that brought in the wisdom of our entire company into making great business decisions. The transparency helps us communicate exactly what's happening and get the buy-in of the entire team.


Objectives and key results (OKRs) help you and the team define success for each product iteration. You should set goals and test to see if your objectives were achieved with your key results.


Work with your team to set goals. Short duration goals help encourage people to get work done faster and create real value for customers. It's important that the team comes up with the goals together, so they buy into them. People are more likely to achieve things when they create the benchmarks of success.


Agile development prioritizes learning, iteration, and customer feedback over processes and planning.


Scrum is a way to organize an agile team. It's not that important to learn, but you can quickly pickup the resource book attached to this class to get to know it better.


Brian Schmitz is the Director of Engineering at NewsCred. He has been working in the software industry since the late 90s. He has a great perspective on how teams organize for success.


Mark Sherrill discusses some great techniques for building customer empathy on a team of engineers and designers as well as communicating the goals of your customers across your organization.


User stories are a way to communicate the customer value being delivered by the team. Every user story should effectively communicate the work you're doing to both your customers and your technology team. Ideally, the stories are written by the team collectively, but the product manager typically owns the backlog of stories.

There are many ways to write user stories. I'm starting to gravitate toward the Jobs to be done stories detailed in the blog posts below, but the most common user story format is:

As a {User Persona}, I want {to do something}, so I can {achieve a goal}


I hope you enjoyed the class. Becoming a product manager was the best career move I've had the opportunity to gain. I continue to learn every day.

Most importantly, if you want to be a PM, take on a project, own the delivery of it, and try to turn it into a product people will buy. That's what this class was for me. I wanted to see if I could pull together a class for a group of students who might be interested in learning more about product management.

If there's one technical skill that I think makes PMs stand above their peers, it's the ability to analyze data and illuminate decisions where others were only guessing. Try out a statistics class online. That's how I learned to build statistical models that helped me demonstrate my ability to ask the right questions, find the answers, and communicate them to the team.

I encourage you to continue learning and thinking about new products to bring to the world.

5 questions

User stories should focus on the goals and situation a user is in when using a new feature, not his persona.

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Instructor Biography

Benjamin Boxer, Director of Product Strategy at NewsCred

Benjy Boxer is the Director of Product Strategy at NewsCred, which is an enterprise marketing platform serving Fortune 500 brands like Pepsi, Bank of America, and Diageo. In addition to his responsibilities at NewsCred, Benjy writes about media and technology for Forbes and teaches product management at General Assembly in NYC. Prior to joining NewsCred, Benjy launched a financial software company and worked on the M&A team at AOL, where he helped manage the acquisitions of the Huffington Post and an ad technology platform called Pictela.

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