Don’t Waste Your Time on Growth if Your Product Sucks

Last week I published the second article of my ‘3 Pillars of Growth’ series. After Process and Team, I now want to touch upon the third and final pillar: Product.

This one’s going to be a bit shorter because there is really just one thing to say: Nothing is more important than creating a great Product. Marketing and selling something that nobody wants is very difficult, if not impossible. Good marketing should be all about creating value for the user and creating a great product is the most basic and impactful way you can do that.

If you don’t have a great product, there is no point in executing well on growing it because it won’t grow.” — Alex Schultz (VP Growth @ Facebook).

In fact, creating a great product is so important that you should probably not even think about Growth until you have a product that people actually want. Companies that set Growth goals too early tend to neglect the product and often fail to create a vision or mission that has guided some of the greatest companies out there.

The very best companies in the world all focused on creating a unique product first and then dealt with Growth once the product had organic clout.

When to Focus on Growth

I’ve complained before about how many Growth Hackers tend to use unscalable and blackhat tactics. Whilst not being useful for longterm Growth, they are a good way to get some initial traction while you test for Product Market Fit.

But before focusing on any kind of Growth, make sure you have a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

In the early days, you’re best off pouring all of your time and resources into creating the first version of your product. It doesn’t need to be amazing -it’s called “minimum viable” for a reason- but it does have to give early users somewhat of a ‘wow moment’ that convinces them to stick around and tell their friends about it.

Once you have an MVP, you can focus on low-level ‘Growth Hacks’ to drive some awareness and see if the users stick. This is one of the only times in which unscalable tactics will be useful for your company’s Growth.

As you experience your first signs of traction, you will begin to see if you’ve created something worth talking about. You can then do some basic user research and make the necessary iterations to determine if you have Product-Market Fit. Only after that is achieved, will it be worth focusing on real Growth (which of course will also include a bunch of user research and iterations).

The goal of early-stage Growth tactics is to see if you can get a little bit of a ‘pull effect’. Are users showing signs of referring others? Are people seemingly finding you by themselves? Are they active without being constantly prompted?

If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, it’s a good sign. There’s no sure-fire way to know whether you’ve achieved Product-Market Fit, but it is often similar to knowing whether you’re in the right gear when driving a manual car; you can feel it when you’ve got it and you can definitely feel it when you don’t.

If after a while you‘re struggling to get any traction whatsoever, chances are your Product isn’t something the Market wants. If this is the case, it‘s probably time to pivot and start over. Slack is a great example of a company that only succeeded once they decided to pivot; after 4 unsuccessful years of building games.

All this doesn’t mean that the product becomes unimportant once you achieve Product-Market Fit. In fact, it’s the opposite. The better your product, the easier everything is, from Growth to Sales to Customer Success.

If you want to successfully grow a company today, you cannot separate Product and Growth. It’s a 2-way stream. You need to constantly build the product your users want whilst finding the best ways to make them find it and use it.

This is the third of 3 articles on the ‘3 pillars of Growth’. Check out the first article on ‘Process’ and the second article on ‘Team’.