I’m a product manager by nature and profession, so today in a slight departure from life in Silicon Valley – I’m going to talk about building products in Silicon Valley. Carl Sagan used to talk about, ‘ … billions upon billions of stars…’. And likewise we have billions upon billions of ideas floating around in the ether above highway 101. Everyone thinks that they are about to create the next big thing. And if you follow tech news, there are many big things that even receive several rounds of funding, before falling over. In my opinion many of these fail because they did not consider the most important step in product development: What is the problem? If you are not able to articulate a problem statement, and what your snazzy resolution would be – then you are going to run into trouble.
This means there needs to be some research done with your core audience, and I mean talking to actual people not reading industry analysts or guru reports that you can get online. Take your idea and meet with your existing customers first. They will provide you with one view – which is usually biased more towards their specific needs with your product line. But, you will have some customers that are thinking about the future and where their systems and processes go next, and they will provide you with valuable input. The next step may be more challenging, because you need to locate core audience that is not an existing customer. These folks are potentially your future customers, and they can give you another perspective. Perhaps they are struggling with a similar but different problem than what you previously focused on. Listen to these people, because if you are trying to expand your market, you need to bring fresh faces aboard the customer train. AND, do not ever leave out your field sales force, if you have one, that is. If your product requires direct sales, you should run your plan by the field, including the Services team, because they provide you with a third perspective. They are constantly beating the bushes for new logos, and can help you with input from prospects, and what they hear about the changing issues for companies in your field.
I realize that for many this should be product management 101, but I have rarely seen this done very well, and usually there are several products that a) never get released, but syphon budget and resources from revenue generating product lines, b) get released and never get sold, because the customer does not ‘get’ how the product will help them, c) reflect negatively on the company brand if a big marketing splash was made, and then the product is suddenly withdrawn. And yes, there are many other factors that affect the success or failure of a product – but it always boils down to what problem are you solving, and is that a valid problem. I have seen software organizations go into tailspins because everyone got caught up in the brilliant idea excitement and had a science project percolating in development which did not have real funding. I have seen posters, graphics and expensive product videos get built – even when the product has no true release date in sight. And, in the end, all of this harms your core product lines that are generating solid revenues. So product builders beware! Don’t be taken in by the next shiny object without doing your due diligence on the research side!