The Cult of “Great Product”

Many of the most successful founders, CEOs and VCs in Silicon Valley belong to the cult of great product.  They understand that a great product is critical to the success of a startup.  News around the life of Steve Jobs has galvanized even more people to jump on the “great product” bandwagon.  Generally this is a good thing, but there tends to be a lot of confusion about what makes a great product.

Great products aren’t anointed by product gurus.  Only customers can decide if a product is great.

Customers will decide your product is great if you can map it to their motivation for changing to your solution.  All customers change from something.  Generally they either switch from a competitive solution or from just tolerating a problem without a solution.  New products should decide on one of these markets.  Trying to serve both markets generally leads to failure.

One way to decide which market to serve is to ask yourself: “when we are generating $100m in revenue, which type of customer do we think will contribute the majority of this revenue?”  Your guess is usually the market you should serve.

Greenfield Customers

If you decide to target “greenfield” people (those without a current solution), then your product roadmap should be focused on simple, effective execution of their desired task.  Simplicity is usually much more important for greenfield users than being feature rich. Dropbox is a great example of a product that has succeeded in a greenfield market with a dead simple solution.   For some categories, features do eventually become important to users, but on a greenfield user’s first experience they should not be emphasized.

Competitive Solution Customers

If you are targeting people who will be switching from another solution, then usually features are an important part of people’s decision to try it.  In this case, you’ll want to make sure that you at least have parity on the key features.  Of course they have no reason to switch if everything you do is the same, so you’ll need to understand their switching motivation.  If you can differentiate on one of the key gripes of the competitive solution, there is a good chance you can be successful.  Common gripes include price, reliability, poor customer service, lack of key features, etc.  You’ll need to both message this differentiation and also deliver on the promise. A “false promise” will cause a high churn rate (people who stop using your product).

Reduce Conversion Hurdles

Either way, switching takes a lot of guts and effort.  Most people are afraid and/or complacent about switching.  Even for those who take the initiative to consider your solution, most will give up before actually trying it.  So it’s also critical to reduce all hurdles that may cause them to abandon the conversion process.

You’ll know you have created a great product when users tell you they can’t live without it.  Unfortunately the “cult of great product” occasionally forgets about these critical components of building an indispensible product.

14 thoughts on “The Cult of “Great Product”

  1. Pingback: The Cult of “Great Product”

  2. Thanks Dharmesh. I’ll try to write more! is an example of a great product that didn’t go down the greenfield path. They entered the crowed meeting space by addressing the gripe that people had with existing solutions that were extremely clunky for participants to join a meeting. I may be biased toward the product because it comes from my former teammates at LogMeIn.

    I also think the iPhone is a good example of a great product that wasn’t greenfield. They nailed the gripe that most people had with using the web on a smart phone.

  3. google search might be another that didn’t enter a greenfield space but displaced altavista, yahoo! etc

  4. Pingback: “All customers change from something”

  5. I agree with Dharmesh. You should definitely write more. I love seeing new articles on your blog cause always know they’ll be great.

  6. I think the distinction between greenfield and competitive solutions is brilliant. Every product guy should intuitively be able to answer where he/she expects their majority of customers to come from. Write more!

  7. I think some businesses mislabel their customers as “greenfield” because they are not using an actual product. However, whether it is a paid product, or a manual process, most people have a solution to their problem. Our job is to disrupt their process with more elegant solutions.

  8. Only customers can decide if a product is great.That quote is so true, you can do all the research that you to perfect your product, but if the customer does’nt want it your just going nowhere!

  9. When customers who switch to your brand, it becomes an opportunity to detect your competitor’s weakness and see how you can strengthen your product or service in that area.

  10. Pingback: The Cult of “Great Product” | Emotional Branding |

  11. Balancing between customer opinions, our own ideas and feedback we get from those outside the market can sometimes be challenging. However, the idea that Henry Ford encountered was that if he moved in the direction that just his customers wanted he would have been breeding horses instead of building cars. Tough, yet being able to promote new features often gives us lots of valuable feedback from current and potential customers as well as opening the door for great conversations internally.

  12. Nice article and interesting view on product differentiation and innovation. And again a confirmation that great innovations are usualy just simple solutions to a given problem. In addition, whether it is greenfield or differentiation, your target group will still need a clear and simple marketing message so that they instantly understand what’s in it for them.