Why Products Fail - Department of Product - Deepstash
Why Products Fail - Department of Product

Why Products Fail - Department of Product

Why Products Fail - Department of Product


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The Mistake Of Rewarding Failure

With the growth of agile transformation and larger corporates adopting startup principles, the idea of failure itself is now one that is largely embraced as a means of testing ideas quickly. Fail fast. Move fast and break things. These are the mantras of modern product teams.

The benefits of a fail-fast culture are that you can quickly test ideas and iterate. However, strategy involves the opposite of failing fast: patience, intuition and persistence.

Agile and the fail-fast culture prioritise failing as a means of learning as quickly as possible and moving on to the next experiment.


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“I think ‘fail fast’ is catastrophic if it is applied to strategy and goals,” he explained. “A lot of founders talk themselves out of what are going to be good ideas in the long run because they aren’t getting immediate traction.”



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Reasons Your Product May Fail: Lack Of Customer Interest

Building things that people want to use, in margin-enhancing, original ways is difficult.

You may have an abundance of domain knowledge, plenty of life experience, a fantastic team, heaps of funding, a big market and still fail miserably. People simply might not like or want what you have to offer.

Example: Google believed that consumers would want to use its Hangouts technology to pair up with experts and learn new things via Google Helpouts. It failed miserably.


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Signals Your Product Is Great.. Or Not

Product Is Great:

  1. Unexpected and positive physical action by users.
  2. People are paying for it in the initial run.
  3. Initial audience growth.

Product Isn’t Great:

  1. No one is interested.
  2. No monetization.
  3. No growth or shift in metrics.


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Reasons Your Product May Fail: Addicted To Customer Feedback

Feedback is great, but too much of it can have unintended consequences. you shouldn’t expect your customers to do the hard work for you. Aim to balance customer feedback with your vision, goals, strategy and – crucially – the advice of your advisors.

Our notion on exactly who our customers are can be wrong as well. The downside to the over-reliance on listening to your customers is that you limit your feedback to those who already exist in your pre-defined market.


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Finding Noncustomers

Try asking yourself some out-of-the-box questions that may increase the reach of your product/service:

  1. Which kind of customers are not using your product and why?
  2. What customers are not even interested in your industry or have rejected it?
  3. What customers have never even thought of your product?


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Reasons Your Product May Fail: Ignoring Customer Feedback

Just as becoming over-reliant on customer feedback is a shortcut to failure, extricating customers from the process of product development entirely often produces equally grim results.

Your customers can provide you with relevant nuggets of insight that propel your product forward.


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Painkillers, Vitamins And Candy

The degree to which you listen to customer feedback is dependent upon the type of value your product is creating. Products tend to fall into distinct categories of value:

  • Painkillers
  • Vitamins
  • Candy.

Painkillers won’t work unless you clearly understand the pain. 

Vitamins won’t work unless you understand the longer-term pain of your customers. 

Candy is an addiction created through desire. Desire can be crafted without reliance on feedback.


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Reasons Your Product May Fail: Lack Of Patience

A lack of patience means cutting experiments short before you learn anything, launching several products targeting different market segments at the same time with no clear goals and chasing multiple metrics that contribute in no meaningful way to your objectives.

If you have the resources, be patient. If you don’t, think carefully about which bets to place and the scope of the bets you place.


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Reasons Your Product May Fail: No Definition Of Failure

Failure means nothing without vision and goals. If you have no clear direction in the first place you’ll have no idea whether you’ve failed or not.

Defining upfront what failure – and success – looks like will give you the clarity to conclude whether what you’ve achieved so far is success or failure.


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Degrees of Failure: Reversible vs. Irreversible

Reversible failures are short term blips in the road. There’s time to ideate solutions towards success. There’s money in the bank to hire new specialists with domain expertise. You know the root of the problem and you have time to solve it.

Irreversible failures are fatal. You’ve run out of money. Your competition has crushed you. You’ve made too many decisions that can’t be undone. The failure has metastasized and there’s nothing you can do about it.


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Reasons Your Product May Fail: Wanting To Fail

Failure can also feel good. 

Once you’ve achieved failure, it becomes a certainty. Humans crave certainty. Failure feels much better than the never-ending, ambiguous slog of keeping products alive and continuously evolving without the certainty of knowing how it will all end. Living in a state of ambiguity is painful. Failure feels better.


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Embracing Failure Without Failing

  1. Patience – where possible, practice patience to give yourself enough time to know whether your strategic bets have paid off.
  2. Interpret signals – you often won’t know whether you’ve achieved product/market fit. Instead, practice your ability to interpret signals.
  3. Value – understand the type of value your product creates and weigh customer feedback accordingly. If your product is designed to solve a problem, dig deep into the problem to understand it deeply.
  4. Recognise the limitations of feedback – embrace customer feedback but know that customers can’t tell you what to build.


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Runner and yoga aficionado.


Trajectory: Start-up Ideation to Product/Market Fit

Trajectory: Start-up Ideation to Product/Market Fit

The Key to Fast Growth is Achieving Product-Market Fit

The Key to Fast Growth is Achieving Product-Market Fit

12 Things about Product-Market Fit - Andreessen Horowitz

12 Things about Product-Market Fit - Andreessen Horowitz

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