If you want to get somewhere, just about any road will take you there. Building a good successful business, one which earns a surplus and generates cash, does not really require doing any one thing alone or at least always. As long as you can identify opportunities that present themselves and capitalise on them you will get there. But that is just the kind of outlook that will not help you build a successful product software business.
Building a software product is a journey where you must know where you are going and each turn and fork in the road, you will need to choose which road will get you there. More often than not, you will not know the right path but you will be able to see which one is not going to get you there. Thus, it is often about knowing and not taking some paths rather than always knowing and taking the right one.
As a product software founder you will go out and meet prospective customers, their needs are often different from how you had seen them. You will need to decide whether these will add value to your product as you had envisaged or is it that you are talking to someone for whom your product was not meant in the first place.
At EmployWise, we have a very active customer community from whom we now source most of our new feature ideas. Each idea has its merits and often a compelling business use case for which it is required by the customer. And yet we often say no to suggestions that, for example, will defeat the philosophy of employee self-service which is at the core of EmployWise.
The same razor sharp focus on what you want your product to be is really how you create simple products that intended customers love to use. Keeping products simple and easy to use doesn't happen till you have the ability to focus and stay focussed and say no when you must.
When you do a good job for customers, they will want you to do other things for them. It means ready sales and good money on the table for you to take. Moreover, even though such work may not add to the product but it will give you the money that surely will help the product. In our own experience and from conversations with many others I have heard countless arguments and justifications on why in the short term it “makes sense” to things that have nothing to do with building the product with “we need to do this to pay the bills” being the most common. Yet the reality is that it takes you and your team away from what you set out to do in the first place. There’s always the “just this one last time” justification to put that off for another day and often then it’s too late.
Another, key decision that we took very early on was to be a pure-play SaaS business and not offer EmployWise in the on-premise or license model. It has meant a lost of missed sales opportunities and an even bigger, the loss of good up-front money that could have helped the business a lot. But we realised very early that the SaaS business is different and we had to stay focussed on building ourselves as a SaaS company not just as a SaaS product.
On the long hard journey that building a product software business is, there are many diversions and distractions that you just have to say no to and keep to your path. Do you have courage to say no and stick to your vision?