Meeting thousands of business owners as I do in my travels across the United States, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand, I notice a subtle difference between your standard small business operator and an entrepreneur. This difference is in the attitude to product.
What I mean is that small business owners tend to have an obsession with their product that entrepreneurs don’t. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting entrepreneurs fail to take product quality seriously. What I am saying is that they don’t focus a disproportionate fraction of their time on product, and often they are agnostic to a product compared with the small business owner’s evangelical zeal.
So, indulge me as I offer some startling realities about your product:
Your product chews up too much of your time
So many people spend a lot of time on their product. They want it to be great, after all. In the drive to make it great, there are designs after designs, redraws after redraws, fine-tuning after fine-tuning. It’s going to be the best product of its kind in the world. And it starts to feel like a kind of thinly veiled procrastination. In the process, you forget all the other tasks which you need to perform as a business owner. You end up with a world-class product without a team to bring it to market in a company without cashflow to make it a commercial success. You fail to apportion sufficient time to master all 14 entrepreneurial disciplines necessary to have a successful business.
Your product shouldn’t be your first priority
Who’s to say the perfect product should be your first priority? Why not concentrate on marketing, staff training, capital raising, business systems, customer service or your technology. You might well reply, “Now hold on! You can’t have customer service or raise capital without a very good product.” You might take a roughshod product, a prototype or a simple product idea still in your mind, and take it to prospective customers. If you ask, I bet they’d help you improve your product concept. Isn’t this a tacit form of sales or market research? If your product is just an idea, who says product is first. If your product is simply an idea, perhaps you want a team of people to create it. Don’t you have to assemble that team first? Who says product has to be your first priority?
Your product is a money pit from which you’ll never escape
This continual tweaking, adjusting and recrafting your product is a disaster for your bank balance. Can you really afford to throw hard-won capital down the money pit because you have a product indulgence? The fixation has to stop. If you don’t reintroduce that multi-disciplinary entrepreneurial approach to your venture, it will never get off the ground.
Your product is not even necessary for your business
Shock! Didn’t you know? Many successful businesses don’t even have a product. What they do is sell other company products and take a slice of the action. You might say, “Wait, wait, wait. In my business, the product needs to be created by me.” That may be true. Then again, I have seen many companies in which the ‘need’ to create the product in-house is actually a thinly-veiled crutch for not thinking creatively when many other companies create a superior version of that same product. Sometimes outsourcing the product makes more sense.
Your product does not need to be perfect
If you are intent on creating your own product, bear in mind that it doesn’t need to be perfect. The world is littered with purists, whether product-obsessive small business operators or mad scientists with a brilliant idea, who just can’t release the product to the market. I think here of software developers hanging out their own shingle, but there are countless other examples. They strive for product perfection and laugh at Microsoft’s latest operating system for all its bugs. Microsoft makes a killing and they’re still striving for perfection five years later without a cent to their name. The solitary independent burger house claims their meal tastes better than McDonalds. It does. However, more people eat the McDonald’s burger. Have you ever wondered why? McDonald’s knows that the product does not need to be perfect.
Your product does not need to be completed before marketing it
One way to damage your business terribly is assume the product must be complete before you market it. No! Please don’t do this. You need to communicate, tease, cajole, harry, harangue and inform your target market that your product is imminent. Secure purchases upfront. Use customer funds to produce the product rather than your own. You can’t do that with some kind of misguided approach that product to marketing is a linear, non-overlapping sequence. Marketing comes before the product. Whet their appetite. Make them salivate. Foster a burning desire. The product definitely does not need to be completed before marketing.
Your product is best improved through customer feedback
You might decide to keep your half-developed product to yourself because it’s not finalized yet. Yet, by keeping it out of circulation, warts and all, you are depriving your product of its potential. It will become much more market-ready if you launch it or test it, thereby subjecting it to customer feedback. Customers will some give it that baptism of fire it needs to correct the flaws. There is a limit how worthwhile your efforts are concerning your product. Launch it. Commercialize it.
Your product is unlikely to attract a loyal following
If you are holding onto your product obsession, perhaps one reason is that by perfecting it you will attract a loyal following of customers. Let me dissuade you from this comforting thought. Despite all the customer loyalty programs throughout the world, there is no such thing as customer loyalty. So why work yourself to death on this product nirvana for future customers who may simply run at the next best thing. And then, perhaps even if your product is the next best thing, there is no guarantee your new found customers will be loyal enough to recompense you an appropriate price. Push your product to market now. Be pragmatic in understanding no amount of perfections will save you from a customer migration elsewhere at some point in the future.
Your product is uncommercial
so, in your constant focus on the product, you may well neglect what’s happening in the marketplace. Did you realize that your product is uncommercial? Stop obsessing about your products features but rather seek out viable commercial niches. Unless you do that, all your time investment is being wasted. Act quickly to define your markets and drive home your imperfect product.
Your product is not scalable
Honestly, I want you to have the perfect product. You might even achieve it. However, if it doesn’t scale across geography, platforms, technologies, climate, jurisdiction and culture, it’s actually not perfect, is it? If, by spending disproportionate time on your wonder-product, you can’t make work across your markets, you are making a mistake. Products are usually not good enough to transcend all these barriers. What makes you think yours can?
Your product fails to inspire your employees
The product love-affair transfixing you is not shared by your staff. In fact, secretly, they hate it. Part of the reason for this is that you won’t let them in on the action. Any suggestion for improvement, whether size, color, packaging or timing, is ignored by you. You monopolize access to your product and employees are denied the opportunity to develop an affinity or appreciation for it. So, your product-centric obsession ignores the human dimension and suffers as a result. What a pity.
Your product is probably not unique
Apart from government-operated or government-licensed monopolies, you will have competition. If you have rivals, then your product is probably not unique. If you don’t have something unique now, you probably won’t achieve something unique any time soon. Here, I mean truly unique not some rationalization of uniqueness. So, if deep, down inside you know your product is actually not that different, do something counterintuitive. Face-up to the fact that further cultivation of your product won’t make a difference to the bottom line and put it to market. Get it out there. Every day you don’t, someone else is stealing revenue from you in the process.
Your product is already offered by your competitors
Didn’t you know? Your coveted product with that unique selling proposition is in fact a commodity. And, as a commodity, it’s currently being produced around the corner at cheaper and cheaper prices than you. In fact, with a little research, you will discover that there is nothing special about your product at all. So, you’d better start focusing of something else like the internet platform to deliver it, a remarkable customer experience in using it or the publicity campaign to evangelize it. Whatever you do, don’t continue to obsess about the product itself. Develop all the entrepreneurial disciplines beyond your product itself and make them your competitive advantage.
Your product is unknown
Guess what? No-one has heard of your product and you have no customers. The reason it’s unknown is that you don’t promote it. The reason for that is you’ve done no market research and haven’t raised sufficient capital. The reason you have no capital is because you didn’t think through the strategy, write a business plan, assess the risk, handle the legals and assemble a first-class team in which investors would have confidence. And everything is done poorly because you have no business systems which give precious time back to you. Guess what? No-one has heard of your product. The solution is to let go of your product and concentrate on all these other things.
Your product has a fan base of one
Your world is so insular that only you love your product. You’ve blocked out any stimulation or influence of other matters and your one mantra is that your product is king. You are a king without courtiers. You have no customers, no glowing testimonials, no money in the bank. When you perish, your product will not serve as a legacy. Your product has a fan base of one. Just one!
Your product is about to be made redundant
Why obsess over your product? Every day you linger on product development is another day closer to your product’s redundancy. Technology, social change, competition and regulatory reform are the threats to your efforts. Any of these causes can reduce or eliminate the need for your precious product, rendering all your efforts fruitless. You are in a race. You need to bring your product to market very quickly, warts and all, lest no-one uses it. Redundancy is inevitable. Still not convinced? Let me take you to recent product obituaries: movie rental replaced by streaming videos, street maps replaced by GPS, newspaper classifieds replaced by a fragmented web marketplace, landline phones in terminal-decline due to mobile, encyclopedias replaced by Wikipedia. You want to visit the older graveyard? How about dial-up Internet, film for cameras, floppy disks, video cassette recorders, fax machines and compact disks. Oh, you want the graveyard’s really old section? Try the telegram, the telegraph, the ecclesiastical scribe. Hurry! Bring your product to market. It’s about to be made redundant. No more product development.
Your product limits your business
If you become fixated on one particular product, you miss a range of opportunities that will improve your business. Do some market research, talk to your customers and experiment with an add-on product. Why not drop your trusty, faithful product that has shown diminishing returns and less market traction for a long time? And maybe, just maybe, you don’t even need a product because your marketing expertise is so strong. Dump your inferior product and concentrate on selling someone else’s.
Your product is stifling your entrepreneurial career
“How can this be?” you ask. Well, the true entrepreneur is mercenary when it comes to product. There is no blind loyalty to a particular product because products are the means by which customers are serviced and money made. A small businessman who shackles himself to a product prone to obsolescence is bound to cease being in business very long. Entrepreneurs are more nimble and adapt to new and emergent products as may become necessary. You do not want to kill your entrepreneurial career, whether new or long-standing, because of an unwillingness to change product.
Your product is an ego-trip
Perhaps you gain self-identity from the product you sell. If this is true, I can only hope you see that this is very limiting. You are more than the nut vendor or commercial litigator you’ve become. From real estate agents to plumbers, from conference organizers to radiologists, I see people in business limit themselves to their product or service because this is their ‘calling.’ No entrepreneur would allow themselves to be defined by their product this way.