Product Preciousness is a Terminal Disease
Ah, your incredible new product. Built to address unmet needs in a huge market.
Alas, the sad news: It will never be perfect, NEVER!
You will always have an image in your mind of what it should look like — an image that is some distance away from the current manifestation of your idea IRL. But you have to be in the market, to know if you’re on the right road, need to shift slightly off current course, or turn around entirely. As a very successful entrepreneur I know says, “real entrepreneurship starts when you get your first order.” And to get the first order, you have to make something that the customer/user actually wants.
I’m guilty of not following my own advice here, of polishing the apple endlessly, waiting way too long and expending too much elbow grease, before finding out if it even tastes good, needs honey, or is rotten and should be thrown out.
A lot of this behavior is wrapped up in fear of a failure that you can’t fix or come back from. We grow up wanting to get the A+, the 100%, on our first attempt, because in an academic setting it hits our GPA and can’t be changed. And in an academic setting, to some degree you can spend copious amounts of time planning and studying before the big day. But in the ferociously competitive environments where startups operate, time is your worst enemy, buyers and consumers say one thing and do another, and customers make complicated decisions in the moment with how they spend their time and budget. BUT, especially IRL, you can come back from a bad grade…but you can’t come back from a product that never launched because it was ‘being perfected.’ The easiest way to fail is to avoid actually putting your product into the ultimate crucible — the market — where real life potential and actual customers will vote with their wallets and their budgets.
We’ve watched teams waste precious time and runway in the vacuum, designing what they think the customer wants and what they believe the market needs, only to waste months and to then release their product/service to crickets or head scratching or disgust.
I don’t have a scientific answer for how to measure where the “good enough” line is, but I know it’s way easier to identify and see with the right culture, mindset and systems in place at your organization…and this flows from the top.
- If you’re an organization that knows there will be setbacks, punches in the gut, fickle customers, harsh critics, and more…and you EMBRACE this as part of the process and as an opportunity to get better, then you will have an unfair advantage as you transform ideas into successful product/services that win the hearts and minds of customers.
- If you’re an organization that has quality systems in place for gathering real-time customer feedback and that has a voracious appetite and genuine curiosity for the customer’s needs, then you will be faster and smarter moving through all the iterations to the promised land.
- If you’re an organization that manages ‘failure’ the right way, and removes judgement and encourages well-educated, customer-driven estimates, followed by open post-mortems that lead to insights that you incorporate immediately on the next version, then you will infuse this mindset and practice into all areas of the organizations and have a better chance of winning.
- BUT if you’re an organization that just loves the idea of what you’re building, loves to talk about how cool it is or will be, doesn’t get dirty with customers to find out what they think about it, doesn’t translate feedback into actionable insights, is always adding one more feature, ignores responses that don’t accord with your worldview, and thinks you have to reinvent the wheel at every juncture to learn it for yourself and not steal best practices, etc…then you’ve imposed additional hurdles in the already immense obstacle course ahead of you.
None of this is rocket science. It’s all been said before by smarter people in other ways. But it’s important to repeat the basics when you see ‘product preciousness’ happening over and over again in the hands of very smart, capable and well-funded entrepreneurs. Ten different coaches can explain the same issue they see in an athlete, only to fall on deaf ears. And then the 11th coach says it in a slightly different way, and it all clicks and makes its way into the real world in the form of better performance. Hopefully this post serves as that 11th coach and triggers something in your approach to things that you know you “should” do, but now finally nudges you into the camp of “it’s good enough. So, SHIP It, and let’s analyze how it performs, how actual consumers respond, and then optimize based on what the market actually needs/wants/and dreams about.”
-Wills Hapworth, TIA Ventures