Product/Market Balance

This essay is the final of a six-part series documenting lessons learned from my time at Electric Objects.

Writing and publishing these essays has been cathartic. The process has helped me find clarity in an otherwise murky experience, and I’m glad to hear from other founders that the series has resonated with them.

The mistakes that I’ve documented in this series didn’t do us any favors, but what the story of Electric Objects ultimately boils down to is a failure to find a market willing to adopt our product at the pace required to justify our business model.

Looking back on these essays, the most important lesson that I’ll take into my next project is clear. While I am proud of the product we built, my focus and dogmatism on product came at the expense of time, money and energy spent on hard questions about the customer. And the business model that I locked us into early on meant that our margin for error was slim.

There’s a popular mythology in our industry that if you build a great product, it will market itself. Word of mouth will be so strong that your customers will do your marketing for you, and any energy or resources spent on traditional marketing is wasted. This narrative leads many to believe that putting time and energy into marketing is an admission that your product just isn’t good enough.

But the notion that a great product “sells itself” is, if you think about it, an example of great marketing. No product sells itself. People sell products. And they sell products by including their customers in the development process. Marketing isn’t talking to customers, it’s listening.

The lesson for next time: marketing isn’t the thing you do at the end, it’s the thing you do at the beginning.

As I reflect on this series, there isn’t a lot here that hasn’t already been said. Flip through Medium for a few hours and you’ll encounter many of the same themes — maybe that’s an indication that there’s some truth to them. But I suppose that for some lessons, learning them the hard way, seeing them up close, is the best and maybe only way to internalize them — and I wouldn’t trade the hard way for anything.

Time to go make some new mistakes.

Holiday 2016 Popup in SoHo