It hurts when you see businesses with inferior products as compared to yours raking in millions of dollars worth of funding, doesn’t it? It hurts more if you are struggling to keep the lights on in your tiny studio apartment, which is doubling as the office for your dream business. I have come across countless entrepreneurs and Quora questions that have been lamenting about this very issue. A startup founder I knew even waged a cyber war against a funded competitor, because the competitors had copied the pivotal product feature of his business. Nothing of substance came out of the cyber war, other than highlighting the immaturity of the entrepreneur in how he handled the whole scenario. Any chances of funding that he may have had evaporated that day.
First things first. “My product is better than everyone else’s” — is quite a subjective thing. Who are the people who have endorsed this claim? What was the question you asked them? How do you know their responses are genuine? Or is it just you and your mom who are quite proud of the product you have built, and/or the business you are building?
The claim of being the best, though made often, doesn’t have a leg to stand on most of the times. But even if it wouldn’t have been so, let us look at the other issues with this claim:
- You can’t help being a little bit biased about the product. If you are the ‘first’, then you launched a product to solve a particular pain-point you can see in the market. And you have launched a product that YOU think solves that pain point. For the sake of brevity, let us ignore a number of questions here. Questions like — Is this pain-point a real issue for a critical mass of users?
- If you designed your product based on the issues you see in your usage of a competing product, then once again — in all likelihood, you are basing your product based on what you think the right product should look like. It may or may not be true for a larger percentage of the audience. I am not a huge fan of handles on the kitchen cabinets. So when I was getting mine made, I made it a point to keep it free of any and all kinds of handles. I like the neat look it gives. It mattered to me, but that is ME AS A PERSON. My choice is great here, since it is for my own personal consumption and usage. It may be a terrible choice for a wider set of audience.
- You may not have collected feedback from many ‘actual’ users of your product. Your friends, family, girlfriend and roommates are not the real users. They would always have some bias — in either direction. You need to understand how the real real users of your product feel about it. And don’t get a herd opinion. Don’t let the opinion of one person corrupt the feedback of the five sitting next.
- You may have collected feedback from MANY users. Remember, too many cooks spoil the broth. If you go around asking people what more can you do, you would have 100 more feature requests by the end of day 1. You may think that your product would be amazing now since you have listened to your users, but in reality you would be left with a hot mess of features. Instead of asking people what more they want from the product, try to understand how they are interacting with the product and using it.
- A good design ≠ A good product. A common misconception — to have a great product, you need an amazing design. You don’t actually. You need an amazing user experience. And user experience is a sum-total of a lot of things ranging from how intuitive and easy to use your product is, and all the way to how good your post-sales support is.
But let us ignore all of that and start with the title of this story. We would work with the assumption that you DO have the best product. It still doesn’t entitle you to success.
There is a lot more that goes into making a concept a business than just having a product. The cyber war incident I mentioned — the entrepreneur who picked up the fight had an app with 1,000+ installs; the competitor who had allegedly copied the feature had more than a million installs on playstore alone. The competitor had spent time, energy and money in building an engaged community, and now was adding a feature for its users. Whether that feature was copied or not is (1) not that much critical, (2) something we can’t say with certainty. (Because no one can be arrogant enough to think they are the only ones who came up with an idea. Even at the time of the electricity race going on between Tesla and Edison, they were far from being the only two people trying to achieve the unthinkable at the time.)
And marketing is not the only thing that matters. There are countless such factors, but let me talk about a couple more.
The team behind the business (not just the product)
There is a reason why investors value the founding team so much. They are the ones who are leading the business. They are the ones with the grand vision, and even if that vision is short-sighted and evolves with time, it would be their responsibility to shape that new vision and overcome the challenges that will come along the way into pivoting to the new business.
And then there is the fact that the founders won’t be able to build the business all by their lone selves. They would need a team of amazingly competent lieutenants and those lieutenants would in turn need a team of great foot soldiers to make sure the vision comes to fruition. All of them contribute into making a concept a reality, a business. But it all starts trickling down from the founding team.
How you handle your successes and failures
They are both important. You may hit the sweet spot with your users today, but if you get competent with that, your business won’t grow. So, more than obstacles and failures, successes would be challenging you into growing your business fast. Why? Because you want to leverage the current momentum to get some more headway.
And then there are the failures; and there would be plenty of those two. What happens when you face these adversities? Do you give up, retrace your steps and start back again from the last known comfort zone? Or, are you able to salvage part of the effort that went into the experiment that didn’t work? Both those approaches are right and acceptable; but the correct course of action varies a lot, and it would vary from case to case. Myntra did a lot of experiments with private labels before hitting the mother lode with Roadster, and you can attribute a lot of its successes to the CEO, Mukesh Bansal, in how he took the company from one checkpoint to the next.
We need to stop looking at products as the business they represent. Products are just a small part of it — a very crucial part, sure, but a part nonetheless. A lot more goes into making a business worthy of a success story than just having a good product. After all, you can always improve your product if you have a strong base of loyal engaged users with you, but if you don’t have the users, then no matter how amazing your product is, it would not be able to save your business.