Sat June 21 2014

Frankenstein Products

One of the biggest challenges in building a product is prioritization.

When you have 1,000 things bombarding you and demanding your attention, it’s hard to figure out what is most important. You have your customers telling you one thing (vocal minority), your team and investors telling you another (selection bias), and your data telling you another (confirmation bias).

Everyone is an armchair critic.

The result is that I see a lot of products that do way too many things poorly. Many times this is the result of multiple undeliberate pivots in a short period of time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-pivot — I think the general idea encourages fast iteration. However, I think sometimes entrepreneurs pivot poorly. They are so stuck on the product they’ve built (sunk cost fallacy) that they fail to extricate themselves from the trenches of building a product to reevaluate the overall problem they are trying to solve.

They end up with a Frankenstein of a product that does nothing well, a jack of all trades, master of nothing. The product “pivot” ends up being a hammer in search of a nail, rather than the other way around. Because they’ve spent so much time building out the product, the mental bias is that there has to be some value to the product they’ve built; it is easy to mistakenly correlate time spent building the product with market need.

Phin Barnes put it well — that the best entrepreneurs have a sense of their True North. In all of their product pivots, they are able to make decisions that move them closer to their True North.

The entrepreneur’s job is to synthesize all of this feedback and test your assumptions in a methodical and deliberate manner.

Without a product True North, you end up wasting time optimizing on a local maximum and building a Frankenstein Product.

(Stay tuned for a follow up post on a framework to avoid building a Frankenstein product.)

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