by • October 21, 2011 • ProductComments Off65

Overheard nuggets of product wisdom

I’ve been fortunate enough to overhear a bunch of mentoring conversations with terrific product guys. Here are a few highlights I’ve frantically scrawled down recently.

“You need to find a use case that is not an edge case.” @andyy

At the time, Andy was advising a company with a very cool bit of utility tech which could plug into all manner of situations. However, they all felt a bit marginal. Customers don’t care about your product portfolio; they care about their one killer use case. It’s a sanity check for a lot of businesses, particularly platforms.

Justifying the existence of a free plan to someone you’ve just quoted a $100,000 price to creates a very difficult conversation. @bfgmartin

Martin told a series of great product stories the other night and this was my favourite. They had freemium personal plans and expensive enterprise ones because they wanted to reach all potential customers. However, they were flatlining. Their growth exploded once they cut all the personal plans: clearer messaging and a focused team.

“Freemium requires very a high product standard to work.” @bfgmartin

Once seen as a magic bullet, freemium is basically betting that once people get a taste of your product, they simply won’t be able to stop. And they’ll also tell all their friends. For products that aren’t fall-in-love-on-the-first-date good, freemium is a dead end.

No product plan can be longer than 6 months. The world changes too much.

Bloomberg terminals could originally send no more than 13 lines of email. Customers loved it because it forced their salespeople to be succinct.

People continue to buy the terminals (essentially a $20,000 per year email account) as a status symbol.

Be suspicious of “marketing”. In my world, the people who went into marketing were the ones too scaled to sell.

The last 4 were all from a Bloomberg MD. I’m not sure the degree to which having bank-style resources behind your product attempts skews your viewpoint, but he really captured the unpredictability and general weirdness of the process.

Instead of asking “Should we buy or should we build,” ask “Can we buy or do we have to build?” @spycho

Chris clarified thusly:

Does something exists which will do what we want? If not, build it.

How strategic this component is to our business — will we have to rapidly innovate in this area or does it create our competitive advantage? If so, build it.

If it’s available and non-strategic, then you’re probably buying, but do a final sanity check on expenses, time, and team expertise.

80% of the questions from new [non-technical] founders are about which technology to use and how to structure, source, and select an effective team. spycho

Sometimes it’s reassuring to know that you’re not being stupid or missing a piece of the puzzle — it’s just hard. Building a good team is like that. Choosing technology is also ambiguous (and very scary for non-technicals), but in that case, make your candidate search language-agnostic and then bend to their preferences.

Somebody giving you their time and attention is validation.

I unfortunately didn’t note who said the above, but it’s very true and often overlooked. People are busy. If someone takes time out of their day more than once to talk about what you’re working on, then it’s a sign that something in there is resonating.

If they spend the time to actually add the product to their workflow or give the trial a fair shake, then you’re starting to get some real information about how seriously they take it. Sometimes you get lucky with signalling and can pinpoint exactly what they’ve validated. Other times, not so much. But it’s worth paying attention to.

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