The world does not revolve around your product

Eric Bailey

A common problem I run into with product founders and larger organizations is the idea that their customers will be obsessed with their products.

This makes sense. When you’re an early-stage founder thinking day-in and day-out about what your product will be, it’s easy to transfer your obsession to a hypothetical audience. After all, your idea is a great one. Of course someone else will see its intrinsic value.

For larger organizations, a mature product will eventually reach an adoption plateau. In this situation, an organization may try to grow products laterally in order to gain new users. The thinking with this strategy is that that existing users will be delighted to have a familiar tool present in a new part of their lives.

Unfortunately, this kind of aspirational thinking can work against you. We frequently forget that our users are people, and people are complicated. Their days are full of multiple competing and overlapping demands, and your product is just one touchpoint.

And here’s the thing: people forget experiences that are easy and intuitive but remember ones that don’t. Don’t believe me? I bet you can recall the last bad website experience you had a lot faster than the last good one. So, how do you prevent your product from being susceptible to this issue?

Go deep, not wide

The more ubiquitous you try to make something, the more its purpose gets diluted. You want to identify what makes your product great, and then capitalize on that to the extreme. Here’s some advice on how to do that:

Identify what your users actually like

What you think and what you know are two very separate things. If you’re going to spend time, money, and energy on refinement, make sure you’re refining the right things. Talk to your customers to learn what resonates with them. Run analytics to verify what they tell you is true.

The Homermobile, from The Simpsons.
Maybe don’t implement all your user’s feature requests.

Consider context

Features are frequently released and then never revisited. We fail to investigate how they hold up as other parts of the product evolve. We also neglect to check what their introduction does to the overall ecosystem that is a product.

Revisit your old features and look at them with a beginner’s mind. Better yet, interview some people and ask them what they think.

Dredge your customer support

Look for patterns in what people are complaining about, as well as what they’re asking for. Are there opportunities where fixing the former addresses the latter?

Glamorize the mundane

Make usability and aesthetic improvements to the less-exciting parts of your product. Your Terms of Service page? I bet it could use a little typographic love. Your user account management area? Maybe spend time adding some great microinteractions. Do you have a systems status page? No? Maybe you should make one (and host it on a separate service).

All these tweaks will combine to make your product feel cared for and high quality.

Address your technical debt

Lowering the technical debt you’ve accumulated allows you to improve the stability and reliability of your product. It’s largely invisible work, but it allows you to more quickly and cheaply iterate on new features.

Try new things

Refined products are stable and predictable, and enjoy a great deal of word-of-mouth success. With product velocity slows down in a healthy way (functional and profitable), you are free to explore other product opportunities and diversify your offerings. Sometimes this means leaving your comfort zone.

Check yourself

It can be a humbling and sobering experience to understand and work through all of this. But remember the end goal: building a successful product that meets a person’s actual needs. If you’d like help clarifying the focus of your product please get in touch.