It’s The Product, Stupid!

Why  Most Startups Fail: The Product

It never ceases to amaze me when startups fail and the founders are crying in their beers that most of the time they just didn’t get the fact that no one probably really needed or wanted that thing they were selling.

Of the many major points, my dad made with me, one really stuck out. Back when I was thinking about going into the technology business – this was pre-internet days – I was discussing with him my future career plans and I told him that I was going to go into computers. He said “No, don’t do that. Computers are a fad. You should get into real estate, or even be a barber.” As a young, semi-stupid, know-it-all, I thought to myself, why would I ever want to be a barber? So when I asked why, I got this answer “Everyone needs their hair cut, and everyone needs a house”. So in his way, I realized years later, that he was basically saying “do something which is always in demand – address a need, not a want.” For the longest time, I thought computers were a need, and now the internet is a need, but the question is – do people really need what you are selling?

Since the startup media is so positively focused, it’s usually few and far between when we see a story on the failure of a startup. So typically the only time that we see that kind of story is when something really high profile fails, like HomeJoy. There are plenty of low profile failures (one of the reasons they may have failed is of course due to the low profile, so one also must understand that the startup press probably kills more startups simply by not giving them press)

HomeJoy failed for the exact same reason more startups failed: no one really needed what they were selling. This is the tragedy of many [this] for [that] startup – just because it worked for Uber and AirBnB, doesn’t mean that it will work for flowers, or house cleaning, or anything else. Of course, if they looked at my 5 Ways to Build a Billion Dollar Startup post, they would have realized that they didn’t hit all 5 points, or even most of them – sure they may have covered point 3, laziness, but were they letting people be helpful, free, combat waste, or go up against an established order? No.

It’s not just startups: it’s EVERYTHING. If you are having trouble selling something, anything, just take a good, long, hard look at the product and say to yourself (you may even need to hire an outside agency to do this for you, as you are probably too invested in the product to do this yourself) do people really need this? Is this worth buying? Is this worth the cost we are selling it for?

It’s really down to the product, not the sales people or the marketing people. Even the most talented salespeople can’t sell a turd, so matter how shiny it’s polished. If the product sucks, then no amount of sales or marketing or visibility can shift it.

— image: sarah deer