Over the last ten years I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in the design and creation of many new and innovative products. Many of them have been really useful or novel technologies but in order to be a truly disruptive product offering more factors need to be considered.
For example, let’s take BlueArc. Growing BlueArc’s market was and continues to be hard graft despite the fantastic efforts by the team there and the surefooted leadership provided by Mike Gustafson. The company was founded on a great concept – moving the complete data path for file transactions into hardware and away from software. The company’s product, the Silicon Server, did this and had (and continues to have) a major performance advantage over all of it’s competitors. With such a great technology why then has it taken many $100M’s of dollars to build the company to it’s current level of success?
My current thought process started to dawn on me when I first took control of marketing at BlueArc. When you run product marketing you start to ask one simple question “Okay, now what messaging do I have to tempt folks to buy this product?”. At BlueArc, on day one, we obviously had and only had performance and we sold on that basis. Early on in the sales cycle if you could draw a direct correlation between storage performance and the customer’s bottom line (companies rendering CGI scenes for the movies for example) then you had a win. If you couldn’t then almost certainly you were beaten out by NetApp and EMC. This was hard and expensive work and the overall market was limited to a reduced customer set.
- Best Technology
- Lowest Cost
- Simplest to Use (might be Best TCO for certain business types)
- Highest Channel Margins (might be Best Partner Margins for certain business types)
Simple huh? I figured that if you had all of these factors you had the best chance to succeed. Making a fledgling technology startup gain traction is hard for all sorts of reasons you can’t control so you might as well give yourself as big a break as possible on the product front where your control is highest.
At Data Robotics we always examined any new product feature for all four of these factors before starting development and many ideas from the engineering or product management teams were left on the side not because they weren’t great but because they would have been too expensive to sell as they didn’t contain all four factors. Surprisingly this simple model worked and Data Robotics sales growth was almost unprecedented for the time (the economy wasn’t helping anybody) hitting double digit millions of dollars in revenue in just a few quarters and doubling year on year since then.
I’m sure these four factors seem so self evident that the reader may feel that they go without saying. This of course often turns out to be literally correct as surprisingly few young companies consider more than one or two of them before starting product or feature development.
For a large organization, through brute force marketing, it is quite possible to win on one of the four factors. Some startups have managed to do very well on just a few but almost nobody I know of has built a sustainable business from scratch on just one. “The Best Technology Doesn’t Always Win” is a mantra now in Silicon Valley (even though that thought is more recent that folks would like to admit).
In summary here are the two things worth considering from this post -
- Simple filtering rules are extremely helpful when time and money are limited. Create rules like the four factors above and stick to them. Don’t make an exception except for very minor features or projects. You’ll loose a lot less time on debate and avoid development that isn’t directly linked to increased sales revenue.
- Growing a new product business is difficult. If you focus you’ll be able to come up with products and product features that meet not only one but all four factors listed above. Take the time to do that up front and you’ll be pleased that you did when it’s time to go to market.