I was consulting for one education company for something. I met this newbie entrepreneur-cum-CEO, working on an ed-tech platform in parallel. As a part of what I was driving, I had to spend some time trying to understand what they had done so far. And this is what I learnt.
They were building a Taj Mahal, they seemed to have fallen in love with. And while many “users” came around, there was no pool of paying users in one entire year.
Some lucky entrepreneur that was.
“What is the business plan?” We are building it.
“How will you monetize this?” As of now it is free.
“Where is the product roadmap?” It is discussed, there is no formal document.
“But aren’t there many such LMS’s out there – what is so unique about this?” No answer.
This was my interaction with a key team member. Next day I got a call from the entrepreneur to not interact with the team in his absence.
Very soon into the project, I learnt this product was a black box. It was revealed in parts to only a few. It had a slowly growing base, of all free users. A large part of the work seemed to be services – which had no scalable model – completely in-house. However, the team seemed to think it was the platform that was the core product, not the services. And no customer seemed to be paying anything for niether the product nor the services.
This was the story of one full year, where they were “learning” and “experimenting”. The investor, whom I interacted with, seemed to think this was a revolutionary platform.
But all that was there was a case of the Emperor’s Clothes.
There is nothing wrong with experimenting and learning. It is very much a part of a product development.
But experimenting without asking the right questions is disastrous.
One of my biggest learnings as a product manager is the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and Product Lifecycle (PLC). Also, the realization of how grossly misunderstood these two concepts are.
MVP, for example, is not merely a half-ready version of your actual product. The key is to know that MVP retains the core functionality of the actual product.
Now that’s the thing. To identify the core functionality you need to know clearly the core customer problem you are solving.
That is the most important aspect to answer – and that is also the most neglected question.
Like this entrepreneur and his team. Not only did they not identify that one problem they were solving – but also whose problem were they solving – the student’s , institution’s or the industry’s?
Many if not most entrepreneurs get fascinated by some idea. They get so fascinated that without realizing they fall in love with it.
Blindly in love
They become incapable of critically asking fundamental questions along the product lifecycle:
- What and whose problems am I solving?
- Is this the right solution for that problem?
- Would the person be willing to pay for this solution?
- Can I scale this solution?
As entrepreneurs, we bear the mantle of building new products, services (unless we are there to make a quick buck – there is a category like that too). That implies that we will need to get fascinated with possibilities. So yes we can flirt.
Infact entrepreneurs should flirt with ideas often. That is the seed of innovation.
But be cautious of falling blindly in love. To not be able to question your own product, to look at it dispassionately, to ask tough questions, take feedback. And to not be able to sleep, if you don’t have a single paying customer, in one full year.
Because in not falling in love with your own product ideas, lies the seed of successful innovation.