Iterating to Your Detriment

By Shereen Khanuja

If you are working on building a product and testing it with potential customers, advisors, and investors, it can become incredibly easy to get tempted by new pivots and iterations, change the product direction (“it’s only a small change!”), and lose focus, which can bring all your momentum to a jarring halt. As a startup, it is important to test and engage with those that will be using your product to understand their needs, find product market fit, and test if your product drives the desired behavior. However, it is equally important to know when to put some feedback in a mental repository for later and stay the course. Iterating excessively, the definition of which varies between each startup and stage, has potential significant impacts to your business:

1.       Team and supporter confusion. So the last time we talked, we were pursuing X segment of the market, but now you think that Y segment is better so we need this new feature… why? Not only can frequent pivoting cause frustration and confusion among a team, it does the same for anyone supporting you. If each time you speak to someone, you have a different angle on the product, it may show aptitude, but it can also show fickleness and a lack of focus. Furthermore, each pivot, even small ones, can necessitate meetings to get everyone on board and in understanding of the new vision.

2.       Time is precious. Each pivot has a resulting time cost for rollout and implementation. If you are pre-launch, that is time keeping you away from your customers, so it better be worth it. How can you make it worth it? There are “musts” that are worth waiting for. To name a few, if you have bugs to fix, an interface design error that confuses people signing in, or even if you have done sufficient testing to know that this feature, the way it is, is not working, then iterate. But if you are iterating because you want to catch all of the bubbles of opportunity before they float away, realize you may miss all of them.

3.       What are you an expert in now? It can be easy to get tempted by new potential customer segments outside of the core customer you initially picked. The idea of making a larger impact is just plain appealing. But each of these, even though it can seem they are in the same market space, requires research and understanding of the segment to build the right product. So each time you change direction, you need to build your own expertise. If you run in too many directions, you are faced with the risk of running around in circles and being proficient in no area.

So then how can you begin to assess if you should make that potential iteration? Here are some questions to consider:

·         If the impetus behind the change is feedback, is the sample size representative of your market and is the need large enough?
·         Is the ROI for your time and opportunity cost worth it?
·         Are you still in line with your passion, or are you only following what others believe you should focus on?


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