If Your Product Sucks, Your Startup is DOA

suck-meterOf the startups I’ve worked with since launching my consulting business, I’d say 90% have developed a product that has addressed a need or solved a problem. This isn’t to suggest all of them have succeeded but their products had the potential to become a viable business.

For all the talk about social media, content marketing and the sales funnel, a startup’s prospects hinge on the product.

You can put lipstick on a pig but if a product fails to meet a need, solve a problem or, frankly, sucks, traction is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

It’s something too many entrepreneurs can overlook because they’re so excited about doing a startup. It is painful to run into an entrepreneur who thinks they’re onto something when, in fact, it’s pretty obvious their idea is going nowhere fast.

Many entrepreneurs fail to realize their product isn’t viable because their eternal optimism doesn’t let them think rationally. Maybe their “product” is nothing more than a quasi-interesting feature, perhaps it only appeals to a small niche, or it’s attempting to compete against bigger and better rivals.

Even then, many entrepreneurs will continue a Don Quixote quest to attract customers. This could carry on for months and involve continual iterations, a wave of new features or even a pivot. Still, a bad product is still a bad product no matter have much TLC it gets.

At some point, a startup entrepreneur has to see the writing on the wall. They need to decide whether the product has absolutely no appeal (the worst case scenario), or whether it seems to be resonating with certain customer segments (aka a ray of hope). In the latter case, the product may have shot at gaining some potential if the right moves are made.

To be honest, most products don’t evolve or have the opportunity to head in a new, better direction. Far too often, entrepreneurs are far too married to an idea that simply doesn’t work and, as a result, they’re trying to force their product into a market that doesn’t want or need it.

One last thought: Even with a good product, startups need to execute well from a marketing and sales perspective. It means have a strategic plan, and then figuring out how to pull the right levers at the right time – something that is easier said than done.

Note: The inspiration for post came from Kissmetrics, which published a post “13 critically important lessons from over 50 growth hackers”. Coming in at #12 was: It’s the product stupid.

“In the final assessment, growth hacking, when deployed in the service of a bad product, is a waste of life. Sorry, it needs to be said that bluntly. Engineering growth for something meaningful and important is a noble cause. Pushing a lazy idea, with lazy execution, is not worthy of your energy. Your results won’t be lasting no matter what your charts look like in the short-term. Time breaks all hockey sticks that are not owned by great products.”

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  • Wayne Helman

    While I agree with your basic premis, I do believe that a poor product can be fine tuned into a great product given a superb team. Most often, you’ll see a mediocre product succeed with a good team behind it as apposed to a great product with a mediocre team. Product isn’t everything – execution is far more important. And to achieve great execution, a well rounded, focused leadership team is a definite must. Countless successful products have origins in “not-so-great” products either as a core feature that has become the entire product or as the same product that has been iterated through and properly focused. Great teams make great products.

    • Mark Evans

      Wayne: Great point about the importance of execution, which often gets overshadowed by the product or the marketing that surrounds it. Thanks for the insight!