Should Your Product Be Perfect or Scalable? Can It Be Both?
Editor’s Note: In the new podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman explores his philosophy on how to scale a business -- and at Entrepreneur.com, entrepreneurs are responding with their own ideas and experiences in our hub. This week, we’re discussing Hoffman’s theory: the only way to scale is to do things that don't scale.
In the first episode of Masters of Scale, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky says, “There's really two stages of a startup's product. The first is design a perfect experience and then you scale that experience.”
While it's good to think of your product in terms of the experience, designing a product or service does not necessarily fit nicely into those two stages due to the complexity and factors that are involved.
Get your product out there.
When I first designed my platform for Due, I knew all along that I was not going to wait to create the perfect product before I launched it. We just made sure we had the basic technology in place that was proven to offer a solution for online invoicing that moved businesses from paper to digital billing processes.
That’s because I knew I had the basis for something that would immediately help my target audience of small business owners, freelancers and startup founders that were in need of a convenient online invoicing process that would improve their cash flow and get them paid on time.
Instead, my approach was about delivering a scalable product that we could tweak over time as we determined what else would help our target audience.
Follow the learning curve toward a perfect product.
Did it work? Yes, it was the best approach for the product we were offering, and it taught us a lot about what our audience needed. By giving them a starting point to change their cash flow, they could then tell us what else would help them. That provided a way for us to then add those features and continue to attract more customers from our target audience.
Our first customers were so happy to have something that was free and worked well, serving as a game changer for how they were handling their invoicing. They now could create a custom invoice that looked a million times better than anything that they could ever make in Microsoft Word that they then printed out and mailed. They could work with international customers, adding their native language and currency to the invoice. And, they could deliver the invoice to their customers’ emails where suddenly they were getting paid much more quickly -- even the same day!
Once they discovered that our product helped them, they thought about what else they could use and shared that with us. Those insights helped us build in those features. If we had waited until we thought we had the "perfect" product, the truth is our customers would have told us otherwise.
It's always going to be about scale.
The point is no product or experience will ever be perfect. You will only ever get closer to perfect as you continue to survey your customers and prospects for what they want and like. Since their preferences are fluid and continually change, maintaining that close-to-perfect status will require you to be similarly adaptive. That’s why scale is the way to approach your product or service design.
Get the product far enough along that it's able to address one or more of the pain points you have identified in your audience and get the pain relief in their hands. Make sure it’s different than any approach already available on the market so when they consider and then use it, they are overwhelmed and excited by just how well it works. This is where you capture those customers and then work on the other aspects that will hold them firmly in place. When they start feeling better, you’ll be able to give them more options that proactively stave off other potential pain points that they have told you about.
It was this approach that helped us discover the real value of expanding our platform into a payments processing solution that could deliver further value for small businesses that were also struggling with how to offer more payment options. It then just made sense to integrate more features that would bring these needs together into one seamless platform. Going into the product development phase, I did not realize that payments would be as critical and differentiating as I do now.
No matter your industry, I think this process for product development makes sense given just how much consumers and businesses have become accustomed to being intimately involved with the companies and brands they do business with. Thanks to social media and the shift in power base it’s created, we must work with our customers on what we make, so it makes more sense to scale and change as we get feedback from those who are using what we develop. That way, they see we are incorporating their definition of perfection and are more likely to stick around and keep buying from us rather than if we marketed what we assumed was perfect from initial launch.