At Jeavio, we work with our portfolio companies to help accelerate product development. In our experience, product orientation is a reliable indicator of the success of a portfolio company.
In the coming weeks, we will explore what it takes to build a healthy product practice. But first, I would like to talk about an interesting product failure mode.
The Product Death Cycle.
Behind the dramatic name is a very real problem that both early and mid-stage startups face. In this blog, we expand on the ideas of David Bland, Andrew Chen, and others to talk about the Product Death Cycle and what it means.
What is the Product Death Cycle?
The Product Death Cycle is the failure mode where a team making a B2B, or B2C product focuses on customer feedback over product vision. While customer-driven, this behavior may result in a vicious circle of seeking feedback from existing customers, building features based on this feedback, and repeatedly failing to gain traction with new customers.
The Focusing Illusion
At first glance, the Product Death Cycle does not appear intuitive. Successful products are supposed to be about delighting your customers!
To better explain this concept, I would like to talk a little bit about the Focusing Illusion. Daniel Kahneman explains it as:
”Nothing in Life Is As Important As you Think It Is, While You Are Thinking About It”.
When a customer is asked, in isolation, about the importance of a product feature, their answer may not be accurate.
A product manager’s primary job is to quantify the value of a product to a potential or existing customer. This value is relative to the value of every other feature or problem that the customer faces.
It is critical to understand the significance of the problem you are solving relative to other issues the customer is facing. You cannot measure the value of a feature in isolation.
Are your most engaged customers holding you back?
Early adopters and engaged users are critical to spread the word and get early feedback on the product. However, their feedback may contribute to the Product Death Cycle.
These users have already spent the time and money to know and use your product for their specific use cases. Their feedback might not be relevant to removing barriers of entry for new customers.
Defining a product niche
The lack of a clear product vision may result in the default roadmap becoming implementing features from existing products to help bridge the “feature gap”.
These features may be a value-add to the core product. However, now you have a well-funded competitor that may have the gold standard product.
For example, adding an eSignature to a document management product may result in direct competition with the likes of DocuSign and Adobe Sign. Your future customers will now anchor your pricing against those products from much better-funded competitors.
You want to compete on the value the product brings to your customers, not whether your product is cheaper.
The Product Death Cycle can sneak up on a well-intentioned product manager. Getting feedback from existing customers is critical. It helps improve the product. However, as a product manager, your decisions must be aligned with the vision of the company and for the product.
Falling into a completely reactive mode may end up in products that serve only a small niche. You may also end up competing with incumbents while putting up barriers to entry for new customers.
References and Further Reading
Original Tweet by David Bland
Video on the Avoiding The Product Death Cycle by David Bland
Andrew Chen on the Product Death Cycle
Shreyas Doshi on the Focusing Illusion
Daniel Kahneman on the Focusing Illusion