On the Level

By Dan Seitam, C-Leveled

We see some amazing technology here at C-leveled.

Technology-centric companies must juggle the trade-offs between maintaining a technology leadership position, continued development of core products and sustaining /maintaining previous products that are still in use. Managing resources, investor expectations and customer requirements are complicated in this environment. The product roadmap is one of the most important tools for a technology-driven company to manage these somewhat divergent forces. A well-crafted product roadmap serves both to communicate a company’s technology vision and to focus technology teams on deliverables, feature releases and the like.

Large companies often have complex roadmaps, reflecting sustaining engineering (maintaining active older products), development of a core product or suite of products (products that generate the bulk of a company’s revenue) and advanced engineering (products that are disruptive functionally and integrate new technology, many times of the leading-edge variety).

While new technologies and products are vital for a company sustained by a technology-based new offering, the risk of those new products failing is daunting. According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen (the guy who wrote “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” better known as the dude who coined the now-overused phrase “disruptive technology”), each year more than 30,000 new consumer products are launched and 80 percent of them fail. Not all of those products include a technology component; but still, an 80- percent failure rate. The bottom line: picking winners is hard.

But, what if you’re an early stage company that has bet the house on a single product? Analog failure rates don’t apply. The risk at this stage oftentimes distills down to a binary outcome, which includes not just a figurative “house” but a real house, owned by the founder.

So, what if the dogs don’t like your dog food?

Everyone gets that MVP thinking is in part a way to de-risk a new product introduction before betting all of the house. In the worst case (or best case?), it is a way to constrain investment on bad ideas and rapidly reach the conclusion that your idea is just a better rabbit hole. But, what if the customer discovery was thorough and generally positive? What if market trends appear to be moving in your direction? What if your idea addresses a now-nascent market, born of the collision of new technologies and shifting demand?

When a new product introduction fails to generate traction, a technology company tends to default to its most basic form: engineers gotta engineer, developers gotta develop. It is always possible that there is a missing feature or capability that will dislodge the demand for your new product. Many times, though, the problem does not lie with the product.

Don’t panic…at least not yet

There are several things to consider if your product is being rejected by customers who should be buying. There are also reflexive responses that will likely lead back to a false-negative position, and potentially cause you to abandon a potentially truly great product.

If your intro is more of a thud than it is a launch, here are some actions to consider:

DO go back through your customer discovery notes. Did you miss something? Did you ask the right questions? Did you ask the wrong questions? Should you go back to them with a modified sales pitch to assess what is hampering adoption?

DO reconsider your market segmentation. Is it sufficiently fine-grained that you can become the large fish in a small pond, initially? While it seems simplistic to say that you may be selling to the wrong customer, sometimes the right customer isn’t so obvious.

DO think about your product specification. Many times, there is too much emphasis placed on the M of MVP. Shift your thinking to MMP, Minimum Meaningful Product. If your value proposition is sound, it could be that you’re simply not providing enough value in terms of delivering on your promise to the customer.

DO be honest with yourself and your team. Doing what doesn’t work with more gusto and commitment is exhausting physically and emotionally. A clinical analysis of what is and isn’t resonating with your customers will potentially reveal the next best steps forward. And by the way, that’s called leadership.

DO ask for help. A different perspective on your business model or pricing or channel approach could put you back on the path.

Most career entrepreneurs will point to a “bone pile” (of what they considered to be great ideas) that is much higher than the “good pile.” That’s what the numbers would predict. But that’s not what matters. Building a business is a brick-by-brick endeavor, and thoughtful analysis of temporary failures and setbacks, and the resulting shift(s) in strategy, is the way most businesses connect the dots to success.