3 Things I Have Learned from Leading a Product Company

Dripps App

I’ve had the pleasure of growing a number of businesses in my “colorful” history and they keep getting better and better and better. Much of this has to do with the fact that I’m getting older and hopefully a bit more wiser as to where I spend my time and with who but some of my strategies have continued to remain true.

For those that may be unaware, my current ventures are between an open source publishing startup with an incredible flagship product, Standard Theme, and Action & Influence Inc. where I’ve helped create a process around a psychometric instrument for developing high performance teams.

It’s kind of a mouthful, I know, but I’m equally passionate about both and it’s pretty easy to manage when you consider that the latter performances the former; that is to say, A&I helps power the activities of 8BIT and our product development and our teams. I see both of them as brothers – loved equally but for very different reasons (if that metaphor can help a tad).

It’s not that I’m the most experienced guy on the block and I don’t haven’t been able to stockpile cash on my successful exits of my previous companies – all I know is that there are a few things that have worked for me in the past and continue to functionally operate well today.

If you’ve ever been interested in leading a company that builds product then here are a few pointers from someone who’s a few steps ahead:

1. You First, Your Idea Second

Your people matter, starting with you. Sometimes the only thing holding a company back (or the genesis of a great one) is the first person on the field. The founder of the company (or the co-founders) have to have the right mix of integrity, interest, passion, and value systems that will attract the same type of players to play.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Product ideas are near-infinite, especially in high-tech. What separates the products that matter from the countless barrels of poop (yes, many of them are just poopy) are the people behind them.

Investing in yourself and in knowing more about your unique strengths as a person can be the deal breaker or maker for your product company. Are you developing as a person? Are you continuing to grow and become more informed in the industry of choice? Are you the right person to lead a company?

Sometimes you need to take a step back from that idea and take a look at the person who’s driving it. Perhaps that “product” needs some work first.

2. Your Team is Greater Than Your Idea

It no longer baffles me why mediocre ideas become incredible businesses and spawn world-reknown organizations. This is the sum total of a great team and one things that they bring to the collective table.

We all have ground-breaking, game-changing ideas; that’s the easy part. Let’s be really honest, it’s too easy to come up with incredible ideas, especially if you’re bent like me. But what’s infinitely more difficult but at the same time infinitely more valuable is having the right team of people around the idea.

You see, a great team can make a mediocre idea into an amazing product. A poor team can make an incredible idea into a lifeless product.

The team dynamics is vitally important to your growth as a product company. You can read my thoughts more in depth here and here about how I am using A&I to help with the development of a great company and great product.

My team is everything and here’s why: Ideas and products may change – heck, we may even pivot hard if things don’t continue to scale (and any good company knows that they have to leave the option on the table to pivot and change direction quickly to survive) but the team will always be there. The best teams can survive the ups and downs of a volatile marketplace and economy, poor teams will never survive the first bump.

3. Your Customers Felt Need is the Product

I can bet that your most favorite applications that you use religiously every single day are the ones that serve a significant felt need. It’s like an itch that you have to scratch every single day. If it’s a really good itch then you scratch it hourly or even more often than that.

Sometimes you have to sacrifice your idealistic vision of launching a world-changing application or product for something much more banal and perhaps even perceived as trivial. Sometimes the itch is simply your own that you wanted to solve for a long time.

I’m not closing the door on the “next big thing” but I am saying that the “next big thing” is rare (be definition and default) and the vast majority of entrepreneurs will do great good (and even build wealth) by serving the already felt needs of their future customers.

This is how I think 99% of the time – that’s why I have small experimental apps like Dripps that do not promise any material wealth (it looks like I’ll recoup my “cost” in 10-12 months… ugh.) but serve my own specific needs today – and do a decent job of it. It may be true that others see the need and are willing to pay for it as well but if not I don’t lose any sleep over it.

Let your customer’s felt need guide your product development and the company you want to create – seek to serve them first and you may end up reaping a great reward.

In sum total you’ll find that my top three tips for building a product company has more to do with people than the actual product. Sure, I’ve got thoughts on the actual product development but that comes much later.

  • Josh Webb

    Nice one. I agree with all you’ve said. Many people think it is about perfecting an idea. But the thing about ideas is that they do and should change as society, technology and your team changes. The one thing that doesn’t is the ideals behind why you do what you do and culture of the team you have built.

    Great Post!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      hmm. i’d say that even at times some of your “ideals” may shift a bit as you change. i’m open to that possibility.

  • http://www.about.me/benterry Ben Terry

    I’ve been using the Dripp app a lot today. Great app, John!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      thanks ben! did you get the update?