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You Can't Expand While Your House Is on Fire

Some steps you just don't get to skip, like having a product that works as advertised, at a cost that makes economic sense.
You Can't Expand While Your House Is on Fire
Image credit: Image Source RF/Ian Nolan | Getty Images

Building a business or product offering is comparable to building a house. First you lay the foundation, then the rough carpentry, roofing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, drywall, flooring and finishings, in that order. God forbid you try to install the plumbing after the drywall has gone up, otherwise you will have to rip it all down and start again, at double the cost. And, unless an architect has provided the builder with a clear blue print on what is being built, chaos will surely follow.

But, that only talks about the initial construction. Unlike a house, a good business or product offering is fluid in its design and is constantly trying to improve, to keep up with its competitors and its customers’ needs. Think of it as evolving from version 1.0 to version 2.0 over time, captured by the mantra: continue to innovate or die a slow death. But, the worst thing you can do, is try to build features of version 2.0 on top of flaws embedded in version 1.0. That is the equivalent of building a house of cards, where the whole thing can topple over with one wrong move.

And if it were on fire?

You wouldn’t continue construction of an addition to your house, if the kitchen was on fire, would you? Of course not. First you would extinguish the fire, repair your kitchen and then get back to building your addition. The same holds true for your business or your product line. But, more often than not, I see businesses keep plowing money into new features and functionalities of their product offering, without paying any attention to whether or not the core product is stable and meeting the needs of its stakeholders. Below are a couple case studies I have seen with my clients that help better illustrate this.

Related: 8 Ways You're Making a Bad Impression and Don't Even Know It

Case study #1: Version 1.0 keeps breaking.

Nothing will upset a customer or an employee more than a product that doesn’t work as advertised. Especially, if you don’t own up to your mistakes and have a clear plan on how you are going to get it fixed, and fast! If you are promising to solve pain points for your users, but the system keeps breaking, all you are doing is creating more pain. This most likely means, there goes your repeat sale or your frustrated employee right out the door. If your house is on fire, put it out! The new addition will just have to be delayed, or you risk the whole house burning to the ground.

Related: Apple Air Pods Will Likely Be a Hit Once They Get the Bugs Out

Case study #2: Version 1.0 is not selling or meeting needs.

A house on fire might also mean the product works fine, but the users just don’t like it. Maybe it is simply not selling or competitive in the market, or has a complicated user interface. Perhaps an expectation of how the product would work was mismanaged, as communicated during the sales process. Or, features or reports that are most important to the users’ needs lack depth or fall short. Again, time to stop construction. You need constant feedback from your internal and external users that everything is meeting their expectations, otherwise you need to fix it, which is best achieved with a tight partnership between your product developers and your sales team. You can try to put lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day, it is still a pig destined for the slaughter house.

Related: 4 Ways to Surviving the Bootstrapping Years

Case study #3: Version 1.0 is breaking the bank.

The last scenario is the technology is working fine and users are happy with it, but it is costing the company of a lot of time or money. Maybe it is small gross profit at the current selling price, or along onboarding process to educate users how to use the product, or the infrastructure was built on legacy systems that are no longer supported or preferred in the market? If the economics just don’t make sense, it is back to the drawing board to find a better way.

So, the point here is: don’t invest good money on top of a bad base platform. If you have a broken business or product, something is not going right and you need to fix the core first, before trying to pretty it up with additional features and functionality. Yes, that may upset your sales team trying to impress clients with the next “bell and whistle” of a competitive product offering. But, if you don’t fix your foundation first, you risk the whole house falling down. Or, at a minimum, the cost of your addition may double, if you have to build it a second time on a more stable foundation.