When your product should no longer be your top priority

From When a great product hits the funding crunch by Andrew Chen:

The problem with hyper product-oriented entrepreneurs is that they often have one tool in their pocket: Making a great product. That’s both admirable, and dangerous. Once the initial product is working, the team has to quickly transition into marketing and user growth, which requires a different set of skills. It has to be more about metrics rather than product design: running experiments, optimizing signup flows, arbitraging LTVs and CACs, etc. It’s best when this is built on the firm foundation of user engagement that’s already been set up.

In contrast, an entrepreneur that’s too product oriented will just continue polishing features or possibly introducing “big new ideas” that ultimately screw the product up. Or keep doing the same thing unaware of the milestone cliff in front of them.

Does this contradict Mark Andreesen’s claim that product-market fit is the decisive factor in startup success? Not necessarily. Without product-market fit, nothing else will work. But once you have basic product-market fit, you need to shift your attention to the other elements which will lead to profitable growth.

A journalist recently asked me why Seeking Alpha “has a website that looks like it’s from the 1990s”. I was embarrassed. But then I realized that this was the result of a conscious decision I’d made. We’d nailed product-market fit. So we shifted our priorities to steady improvements in content quality, increased user engagement (via mobile apps and email alerts), building our ad sales team, and developing PRO, the subscription version of Seeking Alpha for professional stock pickers. Andrew Chen’s article explains why de-prioritizing product enhancements can be the right decision.

One thought on “When your product should no longer be your top priority

  1. I’m not convinced it’s this black and white. Two connected thoughts: i) Does this narrative inevitably lead to the product-genius CEO leaving the company? His passion is building great products, and if that work’s all done, and his only choice is to transition into being a business genius, then he should step aside and move on to his next product innovation outside of the company. ii) Aren’t great companies always innovating? Of course the genius CEO needs to be wary of screwing up the core product by over-tinkering. But why assume he’ll do so, rather than assume he’s looking ahead to his company’s next big opportunity? Maybe this is why some companies create “labs” to carve out space for the CEO-product-genius and key product innovators to experiment.

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