I have a small set of personal first-hand observations about new product launches in un-tested markets as part of a founding team, few engineering teams and couple of product/marketing teams across multiple domains. I’ll have to admit that this sample set contains a considerable number of failures too.
However, if I compile a list of feature releases added on an already established growth-stage product, the success ratio is definitely higher.
Let me hypothesise from these observations:
It is easier to optimise a growth stage product than successfully launch a new product
I think, the reason for the above is – better awareness of market needs, and a richer infrastructure to collect, analyse and interpret customer feedback and behaviour.
Startup literature, which is mostly inspired from observing technology-product startups, enumerates the following different risks
- Market Risk
- Product/Technology/Invention Risk
- Finance Risk
- Team Risk
- Execution Risk
For this discussion, let us ignore finance risk(/running out of cash), team risk and execution risk by assuming that the product team is a well funded entity with great work culture, well-oiled team with complementary skill-sets and disciplined project management practices.
According to Steve Blank, different industries have different affinity towards market risk or technology risk.
Success of most products depends a lot on eliminating market risk.
Some of the mistakes Product Managers do which increase market risk are:
- Taking the opinions of Senior Management/Domain Experts as absolute truth
- Taking few customer requests/sales requests and generalising it for the entire market segment
- Brainstorming ideas in a room and executing the most popular ones without getting out of the building
- Not doubting ideas enough and looking for only confirmatory evidence
Successful products were mostly results of a process(/knowingly or unknowingly) which involved:
- Very careful observation of prospective users/customers – both qualitative and quantitative
- Generation of problem-solution-product hypotheses
- Doubting each hypothesis and staying clear of confirmation bias
- Testing each through early releases or prototypes
- Creating the infrastructure to gather feedback(qualitative and quantitative) and generating insights
- Having the discipline to persevere just enough to test each hypothesis and to discard wrong ones at the right time staying clear of sunk-cost fallacy
- Iterating through this process, pivoting if required and reaching product-market fit for a considerably large market that can sustain a business
The story does not end there. Having product-market fit does not ensure growth and garnering market share in a competitive market.
- Growth has to be ensured through the careful execution of a growth/marketing strategy fine-tuned using multiple experiments done across channels to optimise the growth funnel and/or the viral-loop
This process can easily be derailed through groupthink. For product teams the mantra should be:
Trust by default – for intentions, character and capabilities
Doubt by default – for ideas, hypotheses and interpretation of data