Growing Startups When the Product Sucks

Ali Mese
Ali Mese
Jan 16, 2017 · 7 min read
build a great vs focus on startup growth
build a great vs focus on startup growth

“… if you want to be a great company someday, you have to eventually build something so good that people will recommend it to their friends-in fact, so good that they want to be the first one to recommend it to their friends for the implied good taste. No growth hack, brilliant marketing idea, or sales team can save you long term if you don’t have a sufficiently good product.”

I’ve helped quite a few startups with growth, but this was probably one of the rare ones where the founder’s entire focus was on organic growth, driven by customer satisfaction and word of mouth.

Product vs. Growth

It’s obvious: The first step to building a great company starts with making something worth talking about.

  • To sustain the same growth rate, set more aggressive targets for marketing and sales teams.

“… if your product isn’t quite working, but you have to hit these really aggressive targets, you end up forcing it… even if you hit the numbers, they won’t be real. You spent a lot of money to get there. And what is the point in acquiring all those users, if they leave once they see the product?”

That’s Andrew Chen, part of the growth team at Uber, once again, repeating that, without a great product, there is no growth.

startup founder dilemma
startup founder dilemma

But wait, this isn’t a zero-sum game

This isn’t either growth or product.

Having the guts to start over

Airbnb took almost 1000 days to find a product people loved. Since then, their organic growth via word of mouth has been phenomenal and still continues today.

“Startups are defined by growth, but growth isn’t step one in building a great company. If you focus on trying to grow before you make a product people love, you are unlikely to succeed…

…so if you’re already growing a company around a mediocre product, fix it now. Don’t try to avoid the problem by raising capital for growth– the problems will still be there, with higher expectations. And if you’re just starting out, take the time to build a product your users love, no matter how long it takes. When they actively recommend your product to friends, you’re in the right place.”

Don’t hurt your company by focusing on growth too much, too soon.


This post is part of a series of stories that explore the fundamentals of escaping competition and building a business on your own terms in the most cluttered marketplace in history.1. To build a business empire, own an opinion (not a marketing budget)
The goal is not to sell to everybody who needs what you have.
2. How we got 11.3 million pageviews without the growth hacking bullsh*t
Growth begins with words.
3. Don't build a startup, build a movement
How to move the masses by going beyond selling just software
4. How to escape competition (and build a business on your own terms)
A practical framework to build your unique selling proposition
5. Growing startups when the product sucks
Don’t hurt your company by focusing on growth too much, too soon.
6. How to build a startup empire without selling your freedom
Small is the new big.
7. Sell something bigger than your otherwise boring business
Don’t sell boats. Sell time on the water.
8. Long-term thinking is most powerful when everything is falling apart
Lessons from founders who built their empires over the last decade
9. I can’t tell you why our business is growing
Kill your conversion funnel.
10. The consumer isn’t a moron
On having an obsession for growth before retention.
11. The future of growing startups
Growth doesn’t happen overnight.

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Ali Mese

Written by

Ali Mese

Founder of The Startup pub + Growth Supply storytelling studio. I write essays that help you to get better at building your thing: https://GrowthSupply.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +685K people. Follow to join our community.

Ali Mese

Written by

Ali Mese

Founder of The Startup pub + Growth Supply storytelling studio. I write essays that help you to get better at building your thing: https://GrowthSupply.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +685K people. Follow to join our community.