Audience-Drive Development

Examples of Digital Strategies for Audience & Community Building created for our clients

In product-development, we often hear a lot about Feature-Driven Development (FDD) and Test-Driven Development (TDD). Generally, these agile methodologies start with the assumption that you’ve already determined that there is a need in the market for what you’re creating. FDD and TDD are functionally stylistic methods of developing products, and not great for determining your product’s viability. You can have the most impeccable processes in place for completing features and test to ensure everything works as expected, but this by no means guarantees sales at launch.

As software developers, we’re quite adept at determining functional requirements, determining schedules & providing accurate estimates, and making beautiful, functional applications, but this just isn’t enough for a website or application to thrive. Unless you really have the luxury of making “side-projects” and don’t need to worry about these side-projects generating enough revenue to pay the bills, you must work audience-first. Not iOS-first, and not even mobile-first—both of which are truly implementation approaches. You’ve got to develop your community during (and preferably before) product development.

We’ve had many a collaborator approach us with an “idea for a mobile app”. These are sometimes ideas that they’ve bounced off another creative or a small group of people. But what they haven’t done is create a community around their ideas. They haven’t started sharing those ideas and finding out whether or not enough other people are experiencing the same wants/needs/problems that they are.

Just because you have a great idea, doesn’t mean others will give you money for it. Ideas—even great ideas—must be validated, and implementing ideas can take a long time. It’s best to ship prototypes of your ideas to your audience as soon as possible. We can no longer afford to launch when things are “perfect”.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Reid Hoffman

Building audiences

Many authors are writing books and creating programs about audience-first product development. Teachers and content creators such as Justin Jackson, Breanne Dyck, and Nathan Barry all advocate finding pain points in specific industries and creating products that ease these pains.

The common thread between all these product developers is audience cultivation. By developing a following before or during the development of the product, your business can naturally grow to meet your audience’s needs. By keeping your finger on the pulse of your audience, you can get more clarity on what “users” need and what they’re willing to spend on your products and services. The “willingness-to-spend” factor increases as you overcome pain points for your audience and as you develop trust with them.

Marie Poulin leads Google Hangout

Typeoneerror/Oki Doki Co-Founder Marie Poulin develops an audience via Facebook and mentorship before launching her products

Audience-Driven Development lends itself naturally to an authentic approach to business building. By growing with and around your audience, you can find your way in a crowded market and align with your business' natural strengths.


  1. Build your reputation, credibility, and community before your product or service.
  2. Don’t be attached to any particular feature. Make sure to ship it to your initial audiences for feedback early on in prototyping.
  3. Discover a product that meets the needs of a larger audience or group of people. Don’t make decisions based on your personal preference or wants.
  4. Make time sacrifices for others that pay off in the long run (a natural desire and motivation to help others means lots of “unpaid” hours now that pay off tenfold in the long run).
  5. Use your natural strengths to find your unique angle/positioning in a crowded marketplace.
  6. Make sure you’re clear on the value you’re delivering to your audience.

In our practice

Marie Poulin and I recently started a company together called Oki Doki. As part of the business, we are bootstrapping a product called Doki, a small-business-focused learning management system (LMS). No web hosting, no plugins, and no programming experience needed; just business-focused tools that help you grow your audience with ease.

Doki Prototype

The Doki Prototype coming along

Doki was born out of real needs. Marie gets constant requests to help her clients develop online courses and create communities around them. Copious custom development had to be performed to integrate with clients' systems (such as InfusionSoft, MailChimp, Salesforce, Analytics, et al). Doki will take her understanding of community-development and wed it to a robust platform that allows people to leverage their knowledge by teaching it to their peers and communities. Doki also integrates with a large swatch of business and analytics systems that will foster educated growth around these communities.

To be clear, Doki wasn’t a concrete idea before Marie started her teaching community. As she taught her students and worked with other clients who are teaching others, we recognized an opportunity in the market to leverage my experience building web applications with Marie’s community and teaching expertise. Leveraging our individual expertises and developing with recurring feedback from our community has lead the product in directions I never expected (as more users explained different pain points in existing learning-management systems). Some of our clients have even committed to buying our product well in advance because we’re planning on developing features that meet needs that aren’t being met with existing LMSes.

Examples of how our audience drives development

Digital Strategy School

Digital Strategy School’s community-first approach

  • Marie is teaching her own online mentorship program and building a community around her teachings. We are using insights from difficulties she experiences with existing services and software to determine feature development. CDD drives FDD drives TDD (Or something like that :))
  • Marie helps entrepreneurs create online courses. Our initial minimum viable product (MVP) is a simple library that allows Marie to quickly develop online courses and communities for her clients, so we quickly get immediate feedback which fuels our research. This is not our final product at all; just a simple WordPress framework. We’re utilizing this to test and validate our ideas; what works, what doesn’t.
  • The community that Marie is building around Digital Strategy School is learning from her and her teaching methodologies. We expect many of these students to want to go on to teach what they know in the future. Our platform will be ready for them, and we’ll have taught them our way of content creation that will fall in line nicely with our future user experience design expectations.
  • The prior trust that we build with our community is infinitely more valuable than just launching a new platform in secret, and hoping that people are interested. People want to support products and services from people that they trust and are inspired by, so fostering those connections before and during product creation is the key to building products that change peoples' lives and businesses. Are you really listening?

Follow along

Want to follow along with our new developments? Follow me, Marie, and Oki Doki on Twitter. Be sure to sign up for our mailing list as well.