Why We Waited Four Years to Launch Our Second Product
Ever heard of "Difficult Second Album Syndrome"? You may not be a Billboard-chart-topping artist, but you can empathize with how tricky it is to surpass expectations of your first brilliant creation. Every successful startup -- like any successful artist -- will eventually have to ask themselves: How can we repeat our success?
Making a second-generation product that lives up to the first is not just difficult, it's almost impossible -- unless you take the right measures to reinvent yourself and listen to your users in the process.
Many tech giants -- and increasingly smaller firms -- push out their new hardware quickly, to improve on the previous failings in their solutions, or to jump on a bandwagon with new technical opportunities.
Airtame started as a record-breaking crowdfunding success in 2014. Four years ago, we released our first product, which sought to be the wireless HDMI solution in professional settings. During the four years that passed, the team has been focused on what product to build next -- and when. We had neither the financial opportunity to push out new hardware right away (or the necessity to improve a poor first-gen) nor the willingness to shift gear so quickly.
And, great news! We finally launched Airtame 2 on Oct. 10.
Now that we have a second-gen product that is much improved and serves more purposes than the first, we feel we can bestow insights from our journey onto other startups trying to make it.
Follow your own path.
Take Apple, a massive tech giant that spits out new products all the time. It's hard not to compare yourself -- especially if you're just getting started -- with all the financial woes, etc., that this stage entails. Inadvertently, you look to the stars to find wisdom.
But you're not Apple, and don't need to pretend to be. You can't launch a new product yearly with a Steve Jobs-esque "one more thing ... ," and dazzle (despite wanting to). At the early stages, it's so much more important to focus on talent, sales and knowledge growth. Introducing new hardware when you're not a giant player can be misconstrued as a false step -- as if you're covering your tracks from what may or may not be a disappointing first-gen product.
Our initial product's form factor, design and portability was innovative enough to keep us focused on getting the most out of the components. The rapid approach to firmware and software development is wildly different from our hardware approach. Hardware production is tough, long, expensive and not agile at all.
That's why knowing and owning your limits (i.e. not being Apple) is the best advice to adhere to. You have to find the right path to upgrade a product, rather than the product itself.
Don't forget your first-gen customers.
Every company thinks they have a problem to solve. But, if your early adopters don't understand the problem, if they don't get the solution or if you simply can't bring on new clients or retain your current client base, then you should probably start over and devise a new strategy.
The only way to launch your next generation product is to focus back on your success and pre-existing customer base. Focus on the following prescient questions:
What is the problem you're trying to solve?
Airtame's main objective for the first-gen product was initially to get rid of the cables; a simple mission with a big impact, and a common issue for many professional environments. The focus was easy to comprehend and would solve something we knew was a problem.
When you have a clear problem to solve, use your initial customer base to test out the product and make the necessary changes. These first-generation customers will give you a clear vision of how well your idea is performing.
From there, you'll be able to make changes based on their feedback and identify the areas you need to improve.
What do your customers value most about your solution?
It could be speed, convenience or even the design itself. There's always a crowd favorite. For us, it was the freedom that clutter-free environments suddenly provided and the flexibility of a cloud platform.
If they aren't tethered to the front of the screen or limited to a certain usage, presenters can find whole new ways to use professional displays. Airtame accomplished its initial mission of getting rid of cables. With our second-generation product, we want to help people use screens better in a professional setting.
How can you make your solution more valuable to your customers?
There's nothing more important than the feedback your first-gen product gets. With that, you'll be able to test extensively, eliminate bugs, re-use what already works and keep analyzing, eventually reaching a state of clarity that can be used to develop a new and better product. Release beta versions or prototypes to avoid putting your business in harm's way.
Remember these things before your next big launch.
There are a few important points to keep in the back of your mind before you start getting insanely creative with a possible new solution.
First of all, your company is only as good as the people you employ. And if the people on board aren't all on the same page, the product you deliver won't feel like a well-thought-out solution.
Secondly, feedback is everything. Whether you're bringing something new to the market with your second-gen product or improving on an existing product, you can't do so without identifying what you're doing right, wrong and what you could do better.
Product development isn't a linear process you can put on repeat (although that would be nice and, frankly, kind of boring, too).
Be David Bowie, not Vanilla Ice.
When you're not a huge tech company, you really have to think long-term with every new product, especially if you're spitting out hardware. Stabilizing the company is just as -- if not more -- important than trying to outdo yourself immediately after your first release.
Don't try to hack your production when you're a young and ambitious startup. Instead, hack growth. Get smarter. Focus on acquiring as much feedback and UX testing from your customer or client base, and then feed that into the bigger production plan.
Don't be a one-hit wonder like the Billboard-chart-topping "Ice, Ice Baby" when you're so much more. Be a David Bowie instead, and reinvent yourself while still staying true to your tune.