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Why some products succeed while most fail

Learn the main contributing factors of startup success

Listen to this article instead.

I’ve been on the founding teams of 2 wildly successful startups, one independent and another incubated within a large tech company.

I’ve also worked on products that failed and provided guidance to countless others in the works.

Behind every successful tech startup is a successful product. In this article, I share the 4 reasons why they succeed or fail.

1. Luck

The most important attribute of a successful product is its creators got lucky. Statistically speaking, the overwhelming majority made their luck through determination, understanding of a problem, and iteration.

Of course, some products get lucky on their first iteration, but the odds are against that outcome. Early success often backfires later on when the product team fails to evolve their offering.

2. Determination

Most products fail because their creators become discouraged and give up. If you don’t get lucky on the first few attempts, continue to research and iterate.

Successful founders are obsessed with the problem they are solving. They continue to try different things and are constantly learning. It might even take 10,000 times to get it right.

3. Observation

Understanding a user's problems, needs, and goals informs a direction. The insights extracted through user research are the guiding light of successful products.

Some founders are so emersed in their user's problems they don’t conduct formal research. They sometimes have the uncanny ability to intuit solutions that work. As things scale, the product team must devise ways to capture and present the organization's understanding of the user.

Keep in mind that all observers suffer observer bias — people interject interpretation. And all things observed change their nature in the presence of an observer. It’s impossible ever to have an accurate view of the world. Stay humble and iterate.

4. Iteration

A perfect understanding of a problem and people’s behaviors with the problem isn’t enough to build a successful product. The world is more random than people are comfortable acknowledging. You must constantly build and test to stumble upon success.

The faster you can validate or invalidate a hypothesis, the quicker you’ll evolve the product towards your vision. You might eventually get lucky.

I’m building a tool that helps people iterate and provide feedback faster. I’d appreciate it if you give it a try and tell me how I can improve it. I hope it helps you find product success!




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Andrew Coyle

Andrew Coyle

Building @mockvisual (YC S19) • Formerly @Flexport @Google @Intuit • Interested in platforms

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