Startup Lessons: Managing Market, Vision and Scope

Here’s the situation. Your team’s busy working on X, executing on the ‘roadmap’, but the pressure to grow gets heavy. Engineers are busy trying to ship the next feature. Product is managing the roadmap. And then comes the hard part. A big client has a request. It doesn’t match your product vision; at least in the short term. But your client wants it, now. And to make things worse, the “client is too big to lose”.

The situation you’re in is all too common when growth, financial crunch & priorities get mixed up. And it’s a situation without a clear cut solution. Whatever path you and your team take to resolve this problem, it’s important to keep these 3 things in mind. 

1. Market Reality is Uncertain, Customer Behavior is Not.

Your understanding of the market is like a temporary scan of a moving target. It is your team’s job to continuously assess market gaps and capitalize on commercial opportunities. As the market changes and evolves, so does your strategy adapt as well.

Customer behavior, unsurprisingly, doesn’t change much. Customer ask you to solve Problem A. You solve it and they reward you with big bucks. Now they have a new problem, let’s call it Problem B, and who do they go to? You. But you don’t solve Problem B, you solve Problem A. This reality doesn’t matter to your customer. Your customers will always ask you for more. Why is this? Because it’s a lot cheaper to rely on you solve all of their problems, than learning how to  solve them on their own. You know what comes after Problem B? Problem C. And the so on, and so on….

Moral of the story: Focus on continuously adapting to serve the market, not the customer.

2. The Company and the Product Vision need to Make Sense, Together.

Vision planning and goal setting are some of the tough parts of running a business. Make a company vision too broad, there’s no foundation for a solid product vision. No one understands what the hell you do. On the other hand, make a product vision too narrow, you won’t be empower the organization at large to take action and contribute to a unified goal. So how to make sense of them both?

Make sure you craft a company vision and product vision that are aligned and that complement each other. Your company vision should refer to a great human problem and your product vision should describe how you’re going to solve it in a meaningful way. Here’s where the tricky paradox happens. The goal of your company vision is to allow your team to remain flexible to market uncertainty. The goal of your product vision is to provide the firmness your team needs to stay focused and productive.

Moral of the story: Strive for a healthy tension between your company vision and product vision that helps keep ego’s in check and minds at work.

3. Avoid the Creep.

This last one is extremely important. This is the culmination of lessons 1 & 2. The market continuously changes. Your customers always want more. Your vision needs to help your people make decisions and focus on what’s important. So how do you deal with incoming feature/product requests?

Focus on the market. Don’t convince yourself that something is valuable because one customer wants it. Scan the market and assess the greater opportunity at hand. Will it expand your company’s total available/achievable market? How does it impact your bottomline, growth and churn? Will it add value to your existing customer base? These are the questions you should answer. Once you’ve assessed if a feature/product makes sense for a market, go back and see if it makes sense for your company and your team. Clearly you won’t be able to capitalize on every market opportunity AND do so really, really well. So make sure whatever you pick is something you and your team believe in and will be excited to work on.

Moral of the story: When assessing incoming opportunities, be objective with the reality of the market, and be subjective with the reality of your team. You might have final say where you’re going, but they’ll be rowing the boat to get there.

This situation represents a constant battle between the market, your company vision and your product scope. Getting it right is never easy. Keep it right is even harder. More important is to periodically revisit the 3 so that you can make sure your team is focused on a lucrative market, a meaningful problem and a well-designed, effective solution.

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