A common pitfall when building a new startup , a product or a service is that first time founders and Product Managers start executing for scale too early — even before the product is ready. To clarify, a path to scale and profitability is obviously the holy grail for any business, but that may backfire when one starts chasing scale prematurely for a product that is still unfinished. Instead what founders and PMs should really do before pursuing scale is ask themselves “ Is the product ready for primetime?”.
Premature scaling is a direct consequence of misunderstanding product readiness. In other words, not investing 100% of your time in figuring out what really delights the customers is a mistake that should be avoided at all cost. Founders and Product Managers, (especially first timers) spend too much time in scaling activities, sometimes because its cool to talk about scale — but mostly because they are in constant pressure to justify the resources at their disposal to their investors — to show ROI or go home.
Even before the product has actually delighted the customer, many Product Mangers start thinking about scaling features down, cutting costs and forcing profitability. They misunderstand concepts like scale, product-market fit and customer validation. A very common symptom of premature scale is that PMs cannot concretely define what stage their product is in. In other words, the product might still be in discovery , but scaling activities such as figuring out the channels to sell the product, where to build it and pre-launch activities are in full swing.
To be clear, I am not for one moment suggesting that scaling activities are not important — in fact scale is paramount for any real business that makes money. What I am saying is that scale comes later, what comes first is an answer to the following question
Do you have a product that at-least a dozen of your early customers CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT? If the answer is NO, don’t waste time thinking about scale. Your product has not found your first customers, so focus on that.
If there is one thing that I took away about the lean startup movement, its the “Do things that don’t scale” philosophy. What that means is you should handcraft the product for one customer first. Be with this customer all the time — ask them what would it take for your product to absolutely delight them, to solve all their problems. I repeat, Handcraft it for one customer. Iterate. Do the exact opposite of scale.
So, step #1 is to understand the perfect product — for this customer. By the way don’t be surprised if you find that the perfect product for this customer is way simpler than what you were trying to build in the first place. Don’t complicate things, but I digress.
Next, constantly validate if these handcrafted iterations are really delighting the customer. Again, don’t lie to yourself, and don’t be in any illusions of validation. Trust only ONE THING and that ONE THING is DATA. Did you delight your customer? Yes? Ok, go find another person and let your product delight them. NO? Please ask them why and iterate.
Once you have found 10–15 evangelists ( a number based on experience and what successful founders have often noted) that would do anything to use your product because you solve a pressing need— then think about getting to the next 100 customers, then the next 1000 …and thats when you start scaling things with technology, finding economies of scale, figuring out the 20% features that delight 90% of your customer base, framing allied revenue stream opportunities.
Unless you hit a critical mass of customers that have validated that they cannot live without your product you are not ready for scale, expecting profitability, shaving manufacturing costs etc. Solve the problem your product promises to solve first and then go beyond that.
Its not wrong to think about scale as you are building the product to delight the customer. Actually, You need to have a believable path to profitability, how you will monetize the product, the expected upside etc. But chances are you already have the business vision when you hatched the plan. Revisit it often and stay true to that plan, modify it if something doesn’t make sense. As somebody wise once said (Bezos?), Be rigid on the vision but flexible on details.
So, first things first. Don’t start charging people money right away, don’t try to figure out the cloud provider you need to scale the business, or employ expensive consultants to tell you the 10 revenue streams your product is capable of but missing out on. Don’t do any of the above, not before you have solved your customers’ most pressing needs in a way that they would willingly pay for. If thats not the case, You don’t have a product yet. Go find it.
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