No product ever failed because it was “ahead of its time”

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I claim that no product ever failed because it was ahead of its time.  It doesn’t mean that products can’t fail for other reasons. Of course not.  I guess what I am trying to say is that “ahead of its time” is just papering over something else, and this something else comes in two forms:

  1. The product is behind (as opposed to ahead of) its users expectations.  In other words, it’s just a bad product. It doesn’t solve any problem, and if it does solve a problem it does so in a way that is somehow deficient from the point of view of the user. The technology may not be there yet, it’s slow, ugly, whatever.  Bottom line is: it just doesn’t live up to the user’s expectations. This is the product/market fit that everyone talks about so much.
  2. The product is ahead of its ecosystem. Obviously some products just don’t make sense without certain complements, infrastructure, business models, etc. Sometimes the stuff that you have to stand on hasn’t been invented yet. The users would love to use the product, but the product cannot survive on its own, it needs a certain business or technology ecosystem. Agreed, the notion of ecosystem can be very vague, but it’s basically stuff you have no control over. Some of this can be filled in with enough money thrown at it, but mostly the ecosystem problems are too large for one company to tackle.

What does it have to do with what we are trying to build?

Well, 1 is up in the air until we let our first users play with the application. Right now we are running on a set of assumptions about user wants that we need to validate.  So once we have the alpha we’ll have the first indication of whether the product is decent, i.e. whether somebody is willing to use it and on what terms. Frankly I can’t wait.

2 is easier. The coast is clear in terms of ecosystem. The things that we think we’ll need are already there. Of course, once we start tracking 1 better, we may realize that there is something in 2 that doesn’t exist and is needed to satisfy 1. We’ll see.

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2 responses to “No product ever failed because it was “ahead of its time”

  1. It’s not just business or technology ecosystem – there is also a “social norms” ecosystem. What people consider acceptable risks or acceptable to share, changes over time. Mainstream internet users used to see e-commerce as risky; now everyone buys from iTunes or Walmart.com.

    Facebook wouldn’t have succeeded 10 years earlier no matter how awesome the user experience was, because the social norms weren’t there yet. (I remember using the precursors like sixdegrees.com and the problem was definitely not a UX one or a technology one.) FB grew on the backs of a generation of college students who had become comfortable with a high degree of online “sharing” and only gradually did other populations gain that same comfort level. (Now, of course, everyone is happy to share everything and I know WAY TOO MUCH about my former teachers, parents’ friends, etc.)

  2. Definitely agree. We are actually struggling with the whole degree of default sharing, privacy in our product, and I think it’s going to come down to nailing the prevailing comfort levels and social norms, which as you have correctly noted are a moving target. But I’ll have a separate post on that soon. :)

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