Startups everywhere are warned against the “If you built it, they will come” philosophy and encouraged to consistently test and iterate to find a viable market fit. For people who are perfectionists and detail-oriented, the concept of Minimum Viable Product can take a little getting used to before it feels comfortable. What happens, though, when they didn’t get the memo and they’ve already built it…or a lot of “its”…and they are most definitely not coming (or not staying)?
One of the most damaging responses I’ve seen in this scenario is the tendency to dig in and hunker down. It sounds like “Well, if they just knew about this….” or “They need to take some initiative and….” or “They just don’t appreciate…” in regard to customers. Sometimes, this seems to be a result of expecting someone’s customers to have all the same traits and characteristics of the designer or creator of the product. For example, if they love going into software and spending hours digging around in all the features, they might expect their customers should be willing to do that to learn it. If there is a social component and they’re very extroverted, they might be baffled when their customers aren’t excited about that aspect of their product.
Yes, it’s possible there is simply a marketing problem. It may be that customers don’t know about the product and its benefits. It may also be that they haven’t been given a compelling value proposition for what is being offered. Unfortunately, it may also be that they just aren’t interested in the product as it exists. The bottom line is that you can’t control customers and they don’t actually owe you anything. Shaking a fist in the air at what they should want is completely fruitless. When I worked in consumer goods and trained my employees, I used to use the example that we could make $1000 bottle of shampoo out of the finest ingredients, but if no one would buy it, it was worthless to us – value is in the eye of the customer. Anger at customers for sunken costs that can’t be recouped is pointless.
As business owners and product designers, it’s our job to figure out what they do want and try to give it to them. Have you been able to learn anything new about what potential customers DO want? Can anything you’ve built be redesigned to meet those needs? Can anything you’ve built be repurposed to fill a need for a completely different customer base? Even the best planned roadmaps get re-evaluated as needs change or features don’t perform as expected. The most important thing is to focus on what you can control, which is your ability to respond to feedback and keep evolving.
Have you ever been able to give a stagnant product new life by letting go?