Many businesses often view getting a great product to market as the finish line, without realising that the window for compounding initial success to dominate their space can close quickly. Creating successful products and scaling successfully can seem like very similar disciplines, but they’re two distinct objectives that can sometimes pull your teams in opposing directions.
Planning for what comes after success
Becoming successful overnight is a common trope in tales of catastrophic failure. Many product leaders have a detailed blueprint of how to push their project up the mountain but don’t anticipate that their strategies must quickly realign to remain at the pinnacle. The different skill sets needed when transitioning from disruptor, luring the earlier adopters, to incumbent, where you convert the early and late majority, can take some by surprise ― particularly when the whole organisation has been laser-focused on product launch for so long.
Many very successful products have left their creators with the dilemma of how to allocate resources to support production while maintaining the required focus on the customer to scale. Too many resources diverted to supporting production can throttle innovation, which lessens the impact your product has on the market and derails launch momentum, however not addressing the production issues and feedback of the existing users can result in churn and loss of goodwill.
By thinking that the product launch is the finish line, businesses often reduce capacity at the time that demand becomes greater due to these needs to support existing users while continuing the development, optimisation, and marketing of the product to attract the next cohort of users required for scaling. The result is often that staff are spread too thin across multiple activities leading to diminishing returns in productivity.
The shift in momentum, moving from launch to scaling, can either be turbulent, or a seamless change of altitude, depending on how effectively you manage scaling operations alongside the growth of your business. That’s where it helps to have a strategic partner with experience optimising leading businesses and products for success at scale.
How a strategic development partner helps you scale effectively
A strategic development partner with proven success in your space and a broader view of the marketplace lets you hit the ground running with a skilled pool of already-structured talent and subject matter experts. Your strategic partner helps you plan for success by ensuring that the products being built are scalable and supportable once the products are in market, reducing the production support burden and allowing more capacity for you to remain ahead of competitors who will come for a slice of your niche. The insights gained from bringing similar solutions to market are an invaluable asset and help you hedge against many of the risks that your new product will face. Key to the scaling challenge is the way a strategic partner can help carry the load both pre and post launch without a lengthy onboarding or integration period.
Many businesses attempt to address internal resourcing challenges by outsourcing product development to a service provider whose remit covers only delivery of the product but do not stick around to help support and scale the product post launch. Technology “body shops” that code to order without a strategic vision or interest in market success often lack the knowledge and incentive to ensure that the product is supportable as it scales. They also lack a rigid internal project management structure, burdening your team with additional management overhead. Without the strategic vision and history of delivering products like yours to market, technical resources become more cumbersome to manage at scale.
This touches on one of the key reasons that businesses fall short when attempting to scale rapidly. It’s easy to scale up your technical brain-trust by throwing more smart people at the countless micro-tasks that arise to support and scale a product. In the case of standardised, modular repetitive technical effort, it’s true that many hands make light work. But only up to a point. It’s a much finer art to put a cohesive management scaffolding around bigger cross-functional teams and shepherd them towards a cohesive product vision.
Scaling effectively then isn’t determined by resources, but how well you can continue to manage all the increasingly complex moving parts as they multiply.
The Propel Way™ to scale
We often get a call when our clients need to accelerate to capture a particular market opportunity. A lot of factors can come into play to bring about that scenario. Perhaps a startup has arrived on the scene to threaten an incumbent, or there’s been an extraordinary amount of investment by a particular player in the space.
It may be private equity coming into an industry, or natural disruption like we see in the energy industry with the move to renewables. Megatrends, black swan events, shifting sentiment, economic and commercial interests can all begin to align in ways that create a fertile environment for accelerated innovation to achieve early market capture. That’s where Propel tends to be engaged, and where we do some of our best work.
We’re an advocate for the end user, and for the business problem to be solved at the same time. A problem we’ve encountered with other service providers in our space is that they tend to rush into building without fully understanding the customer and the business opportunity.
Where we have most success is where there’s a clear idea of the problem that the client is trying to solve. They may not have a solution, or see the path to solve it yet, but they have the resources to chase a particular market opportunity. How we differ is the cultural drive at Propel to first validate the problem and business opportunity, then validate whether the product idea as proposed is going to achieve product-market fit. We have the capacity to iterate and innovate, informed by constant feedback from the customer.
Grow your management to manage your growth
The story of your product doesn’t end at launch, it simply turns a corner. Propel’s plan for long-term product success takes into account not just how to launch successfully, but how to translate that momentum into continued growth.
Therefore our engagements generally do not stop at the technical delivery. We stick around to see the product become successful in the market and scale. This means our incentives are aligned with yours to ensure the product is supportable and scalable as it will be our problem to deal with if it is not.
Successful product scaling however is not just about technical scaling, but optimising business processes around that aim as well. The single most important aspect of evolving your business operations around the logistical requirements of scaling is growing your capacity to manage at scale. Throwing technical resources at a problem will work, up to a point. Without building in the management structure and skilling up managers to direct a growing pool of valuable talent, you will under-utilise and ultimately lose that talent to attrition.
Propel Ventures has helped clients address challenges of scale across a range of industries and disciplines. We believe in a management-focused approach to scaling, and that’s why we’ve applied those principles internally. We’re eager to share our insights about why this works, and happy to discuss how it can help you. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.