This is a cross post from my blog. Thought it might be relevant to share it in this forum. 

It is common knowledge that the success or failure for a new venture is primarily dependent on three factors – market, product and team. Entrepreneurs are traditionally good at identifying a market need and hence the two potential areas of fatal failure that one should watch out for are team and product.  In this post, I discuss the importance of getting the product roadmap right.  

Many of us would have heard of or had experience with ventures that collapsed because they ran out of funding before they could complete product development or released an over-complicated product that users could not understand or, released products that fell way short. The common underlying cause for failure might not always be the product itself, but rather the way it was rolled out and its inability to meet user expectations specifically at the time of its launch or release.

User expectations from a product are always dynamic and continuously changes with time.  In fact, one could draw a chart on how a user expectation varies with time. Initially, users (typically a small number) expect the product to address their core ‘pain points’ along with some ‘nice to have’ features, while taking into consideration any constraints that they might have. With time, expectation increases significantly (with more number of users) with need for more ‘nice to have’ features.  I call this the expanding ‘band of user expectations’.

To be successful, it is critical that the product roadmap be aligned with the band of user expectations (like Company B indicated by the green line). Deviating from it spells potential doom. In the example above, Company A attempts to deliver a complete product at a very early stage and ends up over engineering its product and potentially leaving its users confused. Considering that startups have limited resources, it unlikely that a company like this would have enough funds left in the bank to develop the next version. Company C on the other hand adopts a ‘throw it and see if it sticks’ approach and falls way short of user expectations. Both are not helpful scenarios.  

Companies that successfully align their product roadmap against the band of user expectations typically adopt a hypothesis-driven approach to product development. They test which features are desirable for their users, and aggressively seek feedback about their product and its features.  They also constantly iterate on development to ensure that their product fits well within the band of user expectations. Of course, there might be some companies like Apple that will exceptions to this kind of an approach, and are well capable of telling their users what they need. But 99.9% of the startups would be well advised to take structured approach to product roadmap.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences on this topic.

Andy Narayanan

Technology executive and venture investor.