Failures are Lessons…

I have a small set of personal first-hand observations about new product launches in un-tested markets as part of a founding team, few engineering teams and couple of product/marketing teams across multiple domains. I’ll have to admit that this sample set contains a considerable number of failures too.

However, if I compile a list of feature releases added on an already established growth-stage product, the success ratio is definitely higher.

Let me hypothesise from these observations:

It is easier to optimise a growth stage product than successfully launch a new product

I think, the reason for the above is — better awareness of market needs, and a richer infrastructure to collect, analyse and interpret customer feedback and behaviour.

Startup literature, which is mostly inspired from observing technology-product startups, enumerates the following different risks

  1. Market Risk
  2. Product/Technology/Invention Risk
  3. Finance Risk
  4. Team Risk
  5. Execution Risk

For this discussion, let us ignore finance risk(/running out of cash), team risk and execution risk by assuming that the product team is a well funded entity with great work culture, well-oiled team with complementary skill-sets and disciplined project management practices.

According to Steve Blank, different industries have different affinity towards market risk or technology risk.

Source: https://steveblank.com

Success of most products depends a lot on eliminating market risk.

Some of the mistakes Product Managers do which increase market risk are:

  1. Taking the opinions of Senior Management/Domain Experts as absolute truth
  2. Taking few customer requests/sales requests and generalising it for the entire market segment
  3. Brainstorming ideas in a room and executing the most popular ones without getting out of the building
  4. Not doubting ideas enough and looking for only confirmatory evidence

Successful products were mostly results of a process(/knowingly or unknowingly) which involved:

  • Very careful observation of prospective users/customers — both qualitative and quantitative
  • Generation of problem-solution-product hypotheses
  • Doubting each hypothesis and staying clear of confirmation bias
  • Testing each through early releases or prototypes
  • Creating the infrastructure to gather feedback(qualitative and quantitative) and generating insights
  • Having the discipline to persevere just enough to test each hypothesis and to discard wrong ones at the right time staying clear of sunk-cost fallacy
  • Iterating through this process, pivoting if required and reaching product-market fit for a considerably large market that can sustain a business

The story does not end there. Having product-market fit does not ensure growth and garnering market share in a competitive market.

  • Growth has to be ensured through the careful execution of a growth/marketing strategy fine-tuned using multiple experiments done across channels to optimise the growth funnel and/or the viral-loop

This process can easily be derailed through groupthink. For product teams the mantra should be:

Trust by default — for intentions, character and capabilities
Doubt by default — for ideas, hypotheses and interpretation of data

I would like to hear your feedback and experiences which agree with these observations or (even better) disagree with them. Please add them as comments!

(This was originally posted on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/failures-lessons-krishna-kumar-k)