When good companies make bad products

Google Glass. Facebook Home. Netflix Qwikster. What do these three things have in common? They're all on the list of worst product flops of all time, according to 24/7 Wall Street.

(This is the first in a four-part series of posts on epic product fails and how better market validation might have prevented them.)

Without question, Google, Facebook, and Netflix are successful companies. Their reach, revenue, and results attest to that. They also all clearly have the resources to conduct sufficient market research to validate their product benefits, plans, and strategies. So what went wrong? Was it ego? Perhaps they were so enamored of the possibilities if their product ideas were successful that they didn't consider what the market really wanted and/or needed. Perhaps they preferred to "move fast and break things,"  to borrow the old Facebook mantra. Or maybe they just didn't ask the right questions.

To make successful products, you need to validate what the market might want or need in terms of product benefits. What problem does your product solve? What need does it fulfill? It may be something new and innovative, or even disruptive. Something that hasn't been done before. You can still look for signals from the market that there's a gap, a need, and a desire for your product. The guys who started Uber didn't set out to disrupt the taxi business. They simply thought there had to be a better and easier way for people to find a ride.

If you want to make sure your product will be successful, you need to ask the right questions and do the right research every step of the way so you deliver market-first products and product benefits.

Market-first products are products that the market needs, wants, and buys. There are three core principles to market first:

  1. Capture & monitor market signals: Incorporate a rigorous method for capturing and monitoring market signals from your customers and “non customers” or “not yet customers” (they represent potential growth). See the Obo Field Guide to Market Signals.
  2. Continuously measure & test: Check your intuition and opinions with data throughout your product process. Collect and interpret market signals so you can adjust along the way.
  3. Make data-driven product decisions: Beware of choosing selective data that supports opinions already held (confirmation bias).

You don’t have to spend a ton of money or time, but you need to ask the right people the right questions so you can build plans and product benefits that focus on the right stuff.

In this blog series, we look into several fairly recent product failures in the tech industry and focus on what questions they could have and should have asked, what market input they needed, and what market signals they missed.  Netflix, Google, and Facebook all clearly had the resources to do sufficient market research to guide their product plans. In all three cases, however,  their products not only missed the mark but inspired massive outpourings of unflattering attention and negative press coverage and became leading examples of epic product fails.

Read part two of this series, Facebook: Home Alone?

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