Don’t Fall in Love with Your Product
Don’t fall in love with your product at the expense of your value proposition.
The core value proposition of a startup is such a critical element, but it doesn’t always get the proper attention. It is not just a 3-line slide. It is the only thing that ties your product to your market success. It is a promise that, once fulfilled should allow you to realize your business model.
I’ve already discussed that if you are too focused on your product after achieving a market fit, you might miss making your business model a reality, in Forget the Product, Start Focusing on the Model.
In The Leaping Startup, I said that if you listen too closely to user feedback, “most customers will give you incremental feedback, and that will limit your potential if you only listen to that…. Only few users will give you insightful or strategic feedback.”
Two supporting comments are worth noting from that post:
“I achieved early product success and in the excitement that followed became overly focused on continuous product innovation to the neglect of business/revenue model refinement.”
Rohan Jayasekera (co-founder of Sympatico)
“… I was helping the product manager to write his job description, and told him that for now his job is to achieve product-market fit — and that once that’s accomplished we’ll need to throw that job description away and write a very different one.”
A few days ago, Robert Hacker wrote a succinct post, How Companies Can Avoid Incrementalism, naming 3 ways:
1. Focus on the value proposition and not simply the product or service.
2. Focus equal time and energy on business model changes.
3. Systematically review value proposition and business model.
Robert’s post referenced an excellent article by Aaron Schildkrout, founder and co-CEO at HowAboutWe.com, Value-Driven Product Development: Using Value Propositions to Build a Rigorous Product Roadmap. Actually, this was a Part 2 to a series of must read articles on Product Management.
Aaron’s foundational thinking follows this logic: Business Strategy–>Value Propositions–>Product Imperatives–>Product Roadmap. He has a 14-step process to ensure that every product innovation directly contributes to your value proposition.
There are several money quotes from Aaron’s must-read article (did I say that twice?), starting with the central belief that “Value propositions are the central hypothesis of your company.”
And this key statement:
“Everything we do at HowAboutWe Dating is oriented towards making good on our value propositions. To the extent that we achieve this, we believe our target market will love our product and our business will work.”
Followed by this one that nails how a product roadmap relates to the business model.
“The first step to effective roadmapping involves translating your value propositions into what you might call product imperatives: The things your product has to achieve to make good on your value propositions.”
Some startups fall in love with their product vision and continue to pursue it for too long, and they forget to fall in love with their value proposition instead.
Please re-visit your value proposition, and double-check that every present and future piece of your product(s) fully ties in with the realization of your value proposition.
It is your value proposition that will propel you forward, not your product. Your product enables the value proposition to be true. The strength of the value proposition enables your business to survive.
Great post, as usual, William, with lots of supporting articles and quotes. I think this ties closely to @sgblank’s central reason as to why startups are not smaller versions of big companies: big companies are optimized to execute on a known vision, while startups are organized to discover what vision will create a scalable, profitable company (hope he forgives the paraphrase).
Similarly, companies, once they discover that vision, are organized to optimally execute on that vision via particular products and services. Given that organizational structure, it is surprising any company at all – even one that began as a startup that learned and pivoted multiple times – can remain true to value proposition at the expense of the product… and this is completely separate from founders’ often emotional attachment to a particular product.
Thanks. Actually in the HowAboutWe case, they say they have more than one value proposition, which is interesting because they serve 2 segments, and that’s fine.
The VP can undergo iterations of course, but the point is that at some point it requires a high degree of attention for execution, and any product iterations need to be extremely well aligned into the value prop.
OK, so here is my question. How would you create an organization or incentive inside a company focused on execution and growth, such that the value prop is not neglected?
In theory, the CEO owns it; in practice, the CEO/CMO/CFO/CTO/Board/etc. etc. do. And anything that everyone owns, no one owns…
You’re bang on about the value of value propositions. When I’m working with startups, it’s the place (along with creating core messaging) to start because value propositions establish a strong foundation upon to develop effective sales, marketing and product development activities.
Fitting topic, as within the past few days, I think I’ve uncovered a better way to get to our long term value prop of connecting people with shared passions in meaningful ways — that is a totally product offering than we have today (though it can use some of the technology we’ve already built).
Good. So keep the product roadmap and value prop aligned.
yes, the critical part is if the market accepts or rejects the promise of the value prop. That’s the real test.
I think the ceo, product manager & sales manager are the trio that needs to be in lock-step with how the roadmap and value props continue to be aligned.