The (Other) Only Thing That Matters for a Startup

Marc Andressen once famously wrote that in the great debate about what is most important for a startup: the team, the product or the market, that the only thing that matters for a new startup is the market. He crystalized his thinking by quoting Andy Rachleff, formerly of Benchmark Capital, by stating:

Rachleff’s Law of Startup Success: The #1 company-killer is lack of market.
• When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
• When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
• When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.

As Marc noted, you can obviously screw up a great market — and that has been done, more than once. So there is little debate that a great product-market fit will tend to equal success and a poor product-market fit will tend to equal failure. Product-market fit matters most. But building and launching a break-through product (or startup), is more than just getting the market right.

In fact if the goal is about finding a break-through product it is critical to think about the post-launch issues in the early days of the product design. Many teams tend to relax after launch but in my experience significant risk exists well beyond the initial launch. In fact, many of the elements that define a sustainable, scalable, break-through product are wrapped up in the product focus that happens after launch. You might be a bit skeptical on this but I want to focus on 3 primary areas that successful product teams focus on after launch that generate Break-Through Product Success: Go-Live, Retention, Grow!

Go-Live is the initial moment the customer or client Go-Live with the product. Retention is focused on minimizing customer churn and understanding if the solution is solving a real need or a perceived need. Grow! Is all about adding new customers, achieving scale, and maximizing value.

The common theme that all three of these product areas have in common is each provides an indication of how the market is receiving and understanding your product. How well your organization is equipped to receive, process and respond to what the market is telling you is the key driver for that Post-Launch success we are all looking for. This BLOG will focus on the Go-Live moment and in future BLOGs I will address these other categories of achieving post-launch success.

So let’s start with the Go-Live moment, which I define as that first moment the customer or client comes into contact with the product. This is not Go-Live from you, the company, but rather Go-Live from the Client perspective. This is not a one-time moment, but an on-going moment your company must capture. This is the implementation or provisioning moment that as buyers we have all held our breath wondering if the experience will match expectation. Will the product be intuitive to use? Will the solution solve my problem? And how long will the implementation take?
Obviously we have made the purchase, so we have some expectation that our life is about to get better – but how much better? That moment of truth is here – whether a Consumer or an Enterprise Client; whether a SaaS solution or a Hardware solution – every time the product is launched by the end-user, at least one person is experiencing that “Go Live” moment. So the question for you and your organization, is how well prepared are you to capture this moment? How will the client communicate this experience back to you and your team? What product metrics have been designed to capture the experience and to measure the performance?

The core of a successful Go Live moment ties directly back to a product that is easy to provision. Hardware companies spend many hours worrying about the ease of making the device plug-n-play. This attribute becomes mission critical in the ever expanding world of IOT where devices proliferate throughout the edge of the network. In the connected-car world (think On-Star) the system is activated by pressing a button, usually on the visor or overhead. The product teams spent significant hours figuring out how to get the subscriber over the “Fear-of-the-Button” and to start the activation process by simply pressing a button. On one hand it sounds so simple, on the other never under-estimate the subscriber’s fear of looking foolish. To some extent, we have all experienced this uncertainty the first time we buy a new phone, worrying about how it will start-up and if our songs, pictures, and contact info will seamlessly load.

As you think through this experience you quickly understand how this process is even more critical for Mobile or Web Applications and for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) based companies. Software based solutions have to make that early stage configuration intuitive, while minimizing clicks and launching seamlessly in your existing Operating System. How many of us have bought an App, and not have it integrate into an existing feature we already used (think Calendars), or have purchased software that takes too long to configure, or has a GUI (General User Interface) or CX (Customer Experience) that is not intuitive.

During the Product Design process the Provisioning / On-boarding / Implementation should be rigorously understand during the product validation stage, heavily vetted during the MVP stage, and constantly validated during the launch stage. All of the classic tools should be leveraged for capturing feedback on this moment. Some of those tools are:
• Product metrics built into the design that provide insights to the Go Live moment measuring such things as launch timing, sequence, experience. Time of day, & frequency of use can provide valuable knowledge to how the product is being used. Without getting user specific info, location data can also be insightful (indoors or outdoors, on the go or still, etc)
• Analytics should be used to process trend analysis for how this experience progresses over time.
• The call center or service center should by sensitized to questions actively searching out customers or clients in that Go Live moment. Product teams should sit with and monitor calls for major themes and insights into this “Go Live” experience.
• Social Media should be mined frequently for people who are capturing that Go Live experience.

From each of these areas, the positive experiences, measurements and trends will provide the product teams with the guard-rails of what to highlight and focus on during future releases. The negative experiences will provide a path forward on how to differentiate, invest, and improve.

The challenge for the product team in achieving that sustainable and scalable break-through product, is to make sure they have designed a method or approach or process or metrics around that initial customer Go Live moment. As we will see in future BLOGs this is critical step in hearing how the market is receiving your solution and if you are achieving that elusive product-market fit.