the product is all that matters

Published on May 12, 2020

The product is all that really matters when you are building a business.

I have been doing some product management work over the last few weeks, and one theme that keeps coming up is that the product is all that matters. When I am working on product, my focus is solely on product, and not on any externalities.

When you are building a product, it is tempting to focus on coming up with a grandiose vision. Indeed, vision is important: the vision you determine for your business will play a key role in the culture that you develop. But most people will not care about your vision. Their only concern will be whether your product fits their needs.

The ultimate goal of building a product -- or a startup -- is to make something people want, according to Y Combinator. If you have made something with a great vision but no real use, then you will not get very far at all. But if you have made something with no great vision but a clear use case, then you can figure out the vision later.

When you download an app, do you ever think to yourself: what is the vision of this app? I assume that you’ll never think about this, because it doesn't matter. You downloaded an app to solve a problem.

Similarly, it’s easy to get caught up in optimizing for the press when you are starting a business. This makes sense, because many great startups are featured in the press, and if you see another founder in the news, feelings of envy may ensue.

However, press does not add a lot of long-term value to your business. Consider this scenario. Suppose you have built a product that has been noticed by TechCrunch. They decide to write a feature on your product.

This results in a massive surge in user growth. You see thousands of new sign ups, and people are talking about your product all over Twitter. Then, a week later, you realize that your users are all leaving your product.

Indeed, after a press launch, many of the users you acquire will leave, because they will get caught up in the buzz, try out your product, then move onto the next product. You may get a few new users, but unless you have built something groundbreaking, the press coverage you earn is not going to have much of a long-term impact on your business.

What you should be focusing on is creating the most delightful user experience possible.

How can you make it so that, when a user downloads their app, they almost immediately feel like they have found a solution to their problem? How can you encourage people who have a particular problem to give your solution a try?

Metrics like customer acquisition cost, conversions, daily active users are what you should be focusing on when you are building a product. These metrics track engagement.

You could have a massive press launch, but have a very poor customer acquisition cost. Now, you may be able to turn things around after your press launch. But what if you can’t? Now suppose that you forgot all about press, and just focused on lowering your customer acquisition cost. Then you can reach out to press once you’ve lowered your acquisition cost.

There are a lot of false metrics for which you can optimize in a startup, and externalities that don’t really matter. Networking events don’t matter. Neither does your Twitter activity. Now does how many advisors you have.

The product is all that matters. If you build a great product, everything else will fall into place.

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