5 years ago I was working inside a very large corporation on a product that operated like a startup but from within corporate walls. The product was a location based mobile social network. We had grown the user base to a couple of million users and things were fine.
But after a while growth stagnated and I noticed that I wasn’t using it as regularly as I wanted our users to. Statistically I would have been classified as a Monthly Active User but only just. We kept building and marketing the product while trying to solve the stickiness problem by adding features and complicated solutions to simple problems. The truth that no one wanted to point out was that most of the core product team didn’t use the product at all, let alone every day.
In the end I left and started up my own mobile social networking company, Motribe.
The business was simple; a platform that allows anyone using any mobile device to create their own social network. I had a great technical cofounder and we raised funding, hired staff, gathered users and found clients.
But early on there was something deeply wrong with what we were doing and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. We had growth but nothing explosive. We had usage but sustained usage wasn’t where it should be. We had revenue but nothing earth-shattering. We had customers but not the ones we wanted.
We successfully sold Motribe in 2012 and I started an ecommerce fashion company called NicSocks.com.
My experiences with NicSocks.com have taught me something that I wish I had noticed and admitted when I was at Motribe. You see, I wear the socks that I produce at NicSocks.com every day. Literally every single day. I consume my product more than any of my customers and believe in my brand with ferocious dedication. I drink my own Koolaid.
In hindsight, Motribe created a solution that was looking for a problem. I don’t recall a single Motribe staff member (myself included) who was using the Motribe platform to run a mobile social network for fun and for themselves. We didn’t use our own product. We didn’t obsess over it and we didn’t love it. We loved the idea of it.
There were some major business issues that we should have rectified, technical fixes that we could have implemented and ways to start fixing things but I didn’t have it in me to admit out loud that we had a very real problem. We weren’t building a product for ourselves. We were building a product for someone who we thought wanted what we had to offer.
I wish I had the guts back then to to admit that this is probably the simplest success test for your company: Do you use your own product?
If it’s a car, do you drive it? If it’s a watch, do you use it to tell the time? If it’s an app, do you open the app daily, weekly, monthly and use it as you hope it should be used?
If you don’t use your own product the way you want your users to, you’ve got problems.
If you can recognise this as an issue at your own company then you are at the start of a long and hard journey that will either end with you shutting down your business or fixing the endemic problems that your product has.
The test is usage and the solutions are big, hairy and difficult. You owe it to yourself, your team, your investors and your users to be as honest about your company and product as you possibly can be. If you sugar coat the truth you’ll have rotting problems that fester and destroy you from the inside out. If you are honest and upfront then you leave yourself with a small window of opportunity to redo, rectify or reevaluate the viability of your business.