Scaling your Product Vision
Congratulations! You’ve developed a brilliant North Star, and you’re making strides in executing on your product strategy, moving through Now, Next, and Later, bringing your vision to life.
Now what? How do you prepare to scale?
Scaling your company beyond your initial vision is daunting. Should you expand your product offering to a broader feature set? Should you target brand new markets and verticals? Or should you take a leap into an entirely new space where you believe you are uniquely positioned to win? Each of these approaches to scaling brings its own set of risks and opportunities. As you get closer to realizing your initial vision, it’s important to consider how to evolve and communicate your North Star to ensure that your growth doesn’t lead to a damaging loss of focus.
The Vision Evolution Canvas
Teams building Radical Products think strategically about how to evolve their product vision to achieve scale. To begin, try coming up with multiple potential visions of your company’s future. Then, categorize them into one of these three groups:
Product Vision Evolution
This category represents expanding what your product does, while targeting the same customer base. A good Product Vision Evolution tells a clear story about why the new set of features or capabilities is a natural fit with the original vision, while achieving a more audacious and high-impact goal.
One example of Product Vision Evolution is Starbucks’ expansion from coffee to other organic products with the launch of Evolution Fresh drinks and the Harvest line of snack bars. Starbucks has also partnered with Whole Foods as a channel for the same product lines, targeting the high-income, foodie, health-inclined customer profile that the two companies share.
Market Vision Evolution
This category represents expanding the customer segments that you serve, while keeping the same set of product capabilities (even if, for segmentation reasons, you market it as a separate product). Market Evolution usually represents a higher risk profile than Product Evolution, because entering a new market generally means you have less familiarity with the customers, their needs, and their buying processes. However, unlocking a whole new vertical might easily make up for the risk incurred.
Avid Technology accomplished a Market Evolution exceedingly well in 2003. Avid had established dominance in Hollywood in the post-production video editing market — every major movie was edited using Avid. They entered the broadcast market using the same core components and their renowned Media Composer editor, and then expanded the offering to a product suite that matched the broadcast workflow. Within 3 years, Avid also dominated the broadcast market.
When approaching a Market Vision Evolution, be careful not to fall into the trap of targeting new segments for purely opportunistic reasons. Because your company is now reaching scale, you will have plenty of inbound from different markets — if you’re not selective in the markets you pursue, you risk creating a culture that chases revenue at all costs, inevitably diluting your sales and marketing efforts across too many customer types.
Company Vision Evolution
The highest-risk vision evolution is to target a new customer segment with a totally new product, leveraging your core capabilities in a new way. Because you’re scaling on both axes, this requires a technologically stable product that has been well-tested, as well as the financial resources to enable such expansion.
An example of Company Vision Evolution is Amazon leveraging its internal expertise in cloud services (core capability) to provide Amazon Web Services (new product) to web software developers (new market).
Risks and Rewards
Each column from left to right carries with it additional risk. Adding more features to the product where you’re selling to the same or similar customer base is less risky than trying to expand into or potentially create new markets. But the bigger the evolution from the original vision, the more of a transformative breakthrough it is and the larger the financial reward if it pans out. To sustain and grow your existing business while placing strategic bets in each of these columns, you need to find the right balance of investment across these areas for your company. But it’s important that any such bets are placed once you’re ready to scale — as a start-up where you’re still working on reaching your North Star, any other bet is just a distraction. Your North Star needs to be your sole focus.
Sharing your Vision Evolution
Even in the simplest case of Product Vision Evolution, your product direction might look unrecognizably different from your original North Star — for example, Google Maps wasn’t a completely obvious move after conquering internet search. As you evolve your vision make sure to articulate it to your team and discuss it frequently — without a clear new lens through which features an opportunities can be evaluated, your product strategy is likely to bloat up to an unloveable blob. You can publish your Vision Evolution and in a Master Plan format as follows to your team.