Why Product Always Comes First

If you’ve ever picked up a business book, a “How-to” book on entrepreneurship, or even watched a related video on YouTube, you’ll undoubtedly have heard of this simple phrase:

“Make something people want.”

Ok, make something people want. It’s simple.

The underlying reasoning is easily understood and relatable — if the product sucks, nothing else matters.

So yeah, don’t make a sucky product.

However, what’s interesting is that there’s a lot of buzz around company culture, purpose, beanbags in offices, beer-o-clock, and a bunch of other stuff that would make millennials like myself drool. While all of this is great — and I encourage companies whose culture is reflected through these activities to continue to do so — it can go sideways. Really, really fast.

There’s a bunch of companies out there whose culture may be somewhat under scrutiny. Or actually, I’ll just come out and say it — us mere mortals outside of the company have the impression that their culture’s shit.

There are a bunch of such examples out there, like this and this, but these companies are still around. And not only are they still around, but they’re actually changing the world.

Cool, right? Or, hold on a minute — they shouldn’t be, right?

No surprise there, as they all follow the same basic rule. Make a kick-ass product; something that people want! In the quest for beanbags, pool tables, and ping-pong (might I dare even say beer-pong?), these companies have not lost focus and have adhered to the one rule that everyone starts out with, but many forget along the way.

In many cases, as these leaders become obsessed with this vision of how they see the world and wish to change it, they can become a bit obnoxious to those around them. As they poke into the status quo and try to mould the world ever so slightly towards the direction that they are envisioning, there may be some who have to put up with a bit of quirkiness, or even aggression, when things don’t go their way.

But we don’t see this. We are in front of the curtain.

We just reap the benefits of hailing a car from our phone, having it magically appear within a couple of minutes, and then arriving at our destination at a fraction of what the price would’ve normally been under other circumstances. Oh, and did I mention the awesome customer service?

Thank you, multi-sided platforms!

Yes, that’s right. Although Uber may have the stinkiest reputation at the moment regarding its company culture, their product is so.so.so.good that people chat about the latest Travis Kalanick scandal while sharing an Uber (I can’t help but laugh out loud at the irony).

Yaaaay, this makes no sense.

That’s why product matters. And why it will always matter.

There are, of course, numerous cases where you have the best of both worlds- an amazing product that is nurtured from within a company whose culture makes people feel all fuzzy and warm inside. If you wind up working there and it resonates with your esoteric values and ethos — kudos!

If not and you’re in one of the other cases that I’ve mentioned, that’s cool too. Well, at least in my book. I’m advocating this because nothing in life is permanent. Even if you’re making a product now that is changing the world, but makes people feel morally icky when thinking of it, you might be inspiring next generation entrepreneurs to show up and do the same thing or something similar better. And, you know what, who am I to judge?

You’re making stuff that people want. Nay, you’re making stuff that are changing the world.

And that’s pretty damn cool.