Last week, news broke that Vic Gundotra, head of Google+, would be leaving the company. A lot of articles have been written based on speculation about what will happen to Google+ and whether or not it will continue as a social product or instead if all the components (photos, Hangouts, etc) will act as individual products.
One article that I found really insight was written by a former Google intern named Danny Crichton. Upon graduating from Stanford, Crichton was a product management intern and worked on search within Google+. Crichton identifies a few early indicators as to why Google+ may have lacked an appropriate product strategy from the beginning.
Regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur who has a product idea or you’ve already launched a product and are working on growth, this article is a must read. The nature of your role doesn’t matter (founder, developer, or designer) the lessons outlined in this article are applicable to everyone who contributes to the product development.
Here’s a link to the full article on TechCrunch: A Personal Reflection on Google+
A few parts of the article really stood out to me, so here are the big lessons in product strategy and product management that I think are applicable to any company working on a product.
1) Above all. Focus, Focus, Focus.
In the article, Crichton writes about a key problem that he thinks contributed to the lack of traction for Google+.
“Focus is absolutely everything. As soon as you have two goals, even one that is minor, you start heading toward the center of the convex set of solutions, and your product deeply suffers.”
There were two key goals that Crichton says weighed down the product. The first goal was for engagement within the social network. The second goal was for Google+ to integrate with every Google product (this article in the New York Times is a great summary of why Google wanted to focus on integration).
I’ve worked on a lot of products while in house at startups or with companies who are my clients. In hindsight, one of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is a lack of strategy — a solid understanding of the problem they are solving and how the solution actually solves that problem.
So many times, companies get pulled away from the initial strategy by becoming enamored with specific features. These features then become so complicated or so over-built that they render the product unusable — or at least veer the product so far off course that it overshadows the solution to the original problem.
If you’re working on a product or thinking of starting a company, the most important thing you can do is identify your singular focus and make sure that it’s clearly communicated to your team.
Without this focus, it’s highly likely that you’ll succumb to the temptation to stray off course and end up with a product that doesn’t solve a clear problem.
2) Launch quietly. Launch often.
In the article, Crichton writes about how product development (if done right) is an organic process. The best products are built over time, with many revisions, changes of strategy and execution that come from a clearer understanding of your user and audience. Crichton writes:
Building a social product is a deeply organic process. It starts with a spark of imagination, but is refined through careful feedback in the early months of the product’s launch to adjust parameters and features.
This process cannot be short-circuited, nor can it be emulated through a beta test.
The best social products get it right fairly quickly, but they rarely get it right on the first day of launch. Thankfully, most social products are unknown at launch, so the founders have the time to tinker.
One of the issues for Google+ is that everyone knows Google. Everyone’s eyes are on every move Google makes. Therefore, it is very, very, very difficult for them to launch a product slowly and quietly, test the product with real users (not their internal teams), and iterate the product to a point that it’s ready for a larger launch.
Because of this, Google has a very short window of opportunity to gain market interest. People form opinions about new Google products very quickly and this is exactly what happened with Google+.
From my experience, I can say that one of the best things you can do is to launch quietly and launch often. I’ve seen company after company tie themselves to a launch date.
One company tied themselves to a date the founder picked out of his head because he liked the combination of numbers the date made. Another company tied themselves to a launch date around new years because their product fit nicely with the press around new years resolutions. Yet another company tied themselves to the Black Friday and holiday shopping season.
Want to know what happened with each of those companies? They didn’t make their deadlines. The product suffered. The teams were not happy. And there was little to no room for being able to launch and learn.
If you’re planning your launch party before a single user has signed up, then you’re doing it wrong. (tweet this)
Don’t be a know it all. Don’t think that you’ll launch your product and get it right on the first day. Leave room to learn. Leave room to be wrong. Leave room to see what people do with your product and don’t plan massive publicity around the first version of your product.
PS: Other Google + Posts
I’ve been pretty vocal about a few frustrations I’ve had with Google+ when I was trying to put it to use. Here are some links to the articles I wrote: