Think goals, not functions

Giff Constable startups

I just piggybacked on a twitter conversation between Sean Ellis and April Dunford talking about product management versus product marketing (see April’s post). Sean tweeted this comment which I just wanted to highlight:

“Functions” is part of the problem in early stage. IMO goals better: PM fit, then conv eff, then growth… [Ed note: PM fit = product-market fit; conv eff = conversion efficiency]

I completely agree with this.  At the beginning, you need a small, tight-knit, complementary team that ignores function and focuses entirely on goals, splitting up tasks to effectively meet those goals.  With Aprizi, I do any product marketing tasks, and Liz and I split various product management functions.  Function definitions are not relevant, and we don’t feel pressure to do things irrelevant to the near-term goal of product-market fit, save for some effort sowing seeds via relationship building.

“Function temptation” is more of a problem for heavily- funded companies with large starting teams and immediate investor pressure for growth.

At founding, make sure you all agree on priorities.  I was talking to a very talented business development person the other day, and he was stuck on the importance of distribution.  His logic, as I understood it, was that customer acquisition is the biggest struggle for consumer Web startups, so clearly distribution is the most important thing and must happen right away.

I disagree.  A big distribution deal before product-market-fit is a recipe for disaster*, and I’m not talking about the economics.  You might get pressure from the big partner to make what *they* want, not what the customer wants.  Your flexibility to pivot will be severely restricted by expectations, promises given, and a legal document.  Instead of iterating your product in obscurity, and thus relative brand safety, you risk giving hundreds of thousands of people a bad experience.  That bad user experience will threaten your relationship with the distribution partner and possibly neuter future opportunities.

This BD person isn’t an idiot, but rather they are a talent, attitude and skillset that should come on board only *after* product-market fit is found.

My belief in customer development > product market fit > conversion optimization > growth is borne from many scars, mistakes, and a burning desire to do this thing we call “startup” better.

[Update: just to clarify, I’m not saying that you should completely ignore all BD work, since channels are indeed important and they take a long time to develop. I write more about relationship building in the comments below where Sean and April weigh in, and where I think the discussion is better than the actual post.]