Keeping a product alive often seems like the sole purpose of an entrepreneur. So much of your time is dedicated to figuring out how to keep the ship from sinking and moving it forward, that you can quickly lose perspective of why you began the journey in the first place.
To understand a product’s life cycle we must begin with where do products start.
A product is usually conceived after a personal need sparks an idea of a product to solve it. That person is typically the founder (or founders), who by virtue of having an ample understanding of the problem have the best chance at providing a solution to it.
After this initial spark, the idea has to be validated in order to confirm the problem affects a critical mass of people. This will determine whether or not a business is viable for that specific set of needs.
After validating the idea, your product is ready to be developed, tested and launched. This is easier said than done, and I’m fast forwarding numerous steps which include assembling a team, building an MVP, testing your product, initial marketing efforts and so on. We have several videos that cover those topics, and I’ll link them below.
But, say you already made your product available to your market, and you already signed up your first thousand users. One would think that after all this validating and having built a solid product, your job is done. And you just have to cash in the check every month.
But you’ll soon realize people aren’t as willing to pay for your product as they first said they were. For most first-time entrepreneurs, money will flow in very slowly and unpredictably. This can be nerve-wracking and can put an insane amount of stress over your shoulders.
Why do people not pay for your product right away?
For most founders, the answer to that question is product-market fit. What that means is: to what degree does your product satisfy a strong market need? It’s very likely that the first versions of your product will fail to satisfy people’s demands. Why? Because understanding these needs properly and providing an adequate solution is TOO DAMN HARD. Nailing down your value proposition, one that users are willing to pay for can take months, years even.
Unless you’re some kind of entrepreneurial god, you will lose your first beloved customers. Either because they weren’t the right kind of customers for you, or because your product simply wasn’t ready, or ultimately you were not the right kind of solution for them. That is a tough pill to swallow, but on the upside, you’ll learn so much from them that it will make up for the money you failed to collect from them.
That takes me to the next point: Products will inevitably change.
Because you will have a better understanding of your audience’s needs. Because you’ll learn you were targeting the wrong people, and there’s a better fit for your product than the one you initially intended. Because the technology you implemented two years ago will become obsolete, and because the race against your competitors will force you into innovating and implementing new solutions to the problem you set out to fix.
Our product team often gets asked what they do on a daily basis since our product is already live and running. Well, through the last 5 years our product team has constantly released new features, bug fixes, and product improvements, and a new version of the tool is pushed live almost every other week. While some of these changes are simply “the tool working as it should be” or “better and faster”, some of them unlock a whole new layer of possibilities.
And that goes beyond your product itself. You’ll realize that in order to keep your product alive, you’ll need to become incredibly adaptable in pretty much all fronts of your company.
How you market your product, where you advertise it, who you target it to, how you price it... All of these things will undergo tremendous changes, and that’s a crucial part of growing as a company. You need to embrace the unknown and have the will to question your own hypotheses and reinvent yourself entirely if needed.
Take our product, for example, we set out to help users build better presentations, easier and faster. We wanted to help end users who were seeking an alternative to presentation tools they hated using and were stuck with for years. While the spirit of that claim is valid to this day, many things have changed since then:
We went from freemium to premium, realizing our business model was unsustainable with the former model. We understood that competing with the big sharks for end users was going to be a death race for us, and we went for specific market niches instead, catering startups and small/medium businesses with a tool perfectly tailored to their needs. Accordingly, our product has changed drastically over the years. From the user interface to its backend tech, we’ve had to change almost every single bit of the platform.
That has probably been the key to our success. We didn’t get stuck on our idea of what our business had to be and instead became what our business needed to be in order to serve our customers properly. Obviously without compromising our own vision and core company beliefs.
Our latest product novelty revolves around the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to design users’ slides. An innovation we couldn’t possibly dream of a few years ago. The new slide editor will be able to factor in millions of graphic variables at once and provide optimized solutions to people’s presentations. This kind of innovations have been critical to our success, and have allowed us to outlive many other tools that have perished along the way.
It’s crazy how differently (for the most part differently meaning “better”), things have turned out for us. You make these grandiose plans about the products you build, where you see them in 5-10 years. But the truth is there’s an unspoken fear of not being able to deliver what you’re promising. Of being too optimistic about the projections you make for your business.
But in the end, what we’ve come to realize is that these plans and business projections are not meant to predict what will happen, but rather to set a path for your company. Whether you meet them or not is somewhat irrelevant. What matters is how much wanting to meet those goals will be an engine to move your product forward, and adapt it to the many challenges it will certainly face.
CEO at Slidebean/FounderHub. TEDx Speaker. 500 Startups Alum. 40-under-40.