Developing Product Vision

Having a clear vision of the product – a picture of it in your mind that you can articulate clearly to other people who develop the product with you – is important for you as the founder of a startup. What makes you a leader of a startup is your ability to see what others don’t see. You can envision a product that solves a problem. How you describe it (the “picture” in your mind) will affect the way the product developers around you act and react.

Just as thinking changes and morphs in everyday life, your vision of the product will evolve over time as new information comes to light, but when you are charting the direction of your startup, you need to be able to tell the difference between your vision of the product and a hallucination. Distinguishing between the two can save you trouble in the early stages of your startup.

Black Binocular on Round Device

In a startup, once you have developed and articulated the product vision that guides the developmental work, something we refer to as “hallucinations” will tempt you to continuously be changing the product vision every time you get a new piece of information.

You may go to talk to a prospective customer, hear an interesting piece of feedback and then come back to your team at the startup all excited, saying, “We need to change the product. I have figured it out. We need to develop the product in this totally new direction.”

As a result, everyone working with you stops what they are doing; and your startup loses time and money, upending the product development team – all based on one piece of feedback from a prospect. This is likely a hallucination, which enticed you.

You have not done any brainstorming or testing about the new idea. You have not conferred with trusted advisors. You have not relooked at your commitment to the product vision you had methodically developed. Instead, you chased the “shiny object” of an enticing idea.

You demanded a pivot, but before sending the product team down the proverbial rabbit hole, you did not validate whether the new direction is better than the product vision you already had. It is possible that your familiarity with your own product vision may make it seem like other ideas are more “exciting” in the moment simply because they are new and seem trendy.

The worst part is that you could chase these hallucinations on a regular basis. You could get a new “bright idea” every month and think you have solved your startup’s product-market fit woes. It may feel nice to believe you have figured out the puzzle of your startup’s product development, but it can also result in your staff being afraid to make any decisions and even engineers wanting to leave your startup. You don’t want to continually be sending your startup into “fire-drill mode,” abandoning your agile development process and prompting the product team to be erratically pivoting in pursuit of your “hallucination of the month,” as if they are trying a new ice cream flavor of the month. You don’t want your startup meltdown under such conditions that you would be directly responsible for creating.

Man Standing on Mountain

To avoid allowing hallucinations to wreak havoc in your startup, we recommend that you do the following three things when new information comes to you, threatening to disrupt your true product vision:

  1. Take a few days to think about it.  Allow the initial excitement to wear off.
  2. Analyze it privately and objectively with someone whom you trust
  3. After you have brainstormed about it with a trusted advisor, invite open feedback from co-founders or the product development team and create a way to test the new idea before upending the team’s current efforts

If you are going to make a substantial change to your product, it should be part of a coherent strategy, not because of lack of self-control, insecurity or enticements by hallucinations. Too much is at stake. As the leader of a startup, you do yourself a favor by holding yourself to a higher standard and staying true to your product vision unless you are able to test and validate a pivot that is truly worthwhile.