Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Product Management: Winner anticipates the market

I am flying out to Boston for a meeting.  When you fly and cannot find a Wi-Fi connection, you get to step out of constant barrage of emails landing on your inbox, and get to have some quiet time.  I've decided to use this time to think about product strategy.  It's something that I don't get to think about on daily basis.

The central question is this: as a product manager and entrepreneur how can you ensure that your product will have a big market and can disrupt existing products to become a major player?  When I look back on products that changed my life over past 20 years, I see some patterns in best seller products.

In 1990's there were Microsoft Windows OS, Office Suite including Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Netscape browser and Yahoo. In early 2000's there were Webmails, Instant Messages, P2P file sharing networks like Napster and BitTorrent and iPod/iTune store.  In late 2000's there were Google search, Facebook, Twitter, iPhone and Amazon.  All these products and services have fundamentally changed how we use computer and disrupted incumbent players in the market or created a new market all together.

When I look back at these hot products with benefit of hindsight, I see underlying trend happening behind the scene lifting all boats with its rising tide.  These highly successful products were released at the time when the trend was taking off.

In 1990's Microsoft was in the right place to capitalize rapid growth of personal computers and enterprise IT.  It was not Microsoft products' greatness that grew their business, but instead it was increasing market for all personal and desktop computers that made Microsoft a fortune.

Yes, Microsoft had done many things right and aggressively competed with other players in the market, which has made them the winner.  But their winning would have been a lot smaller, had it not been the growing personal computer and enterprise IT adoption.

Apple Newton from 1993;
good idea, but market was not ready
Same can be said about P2P file sharing.  As more and more college students and hackers had internet connectivity and broadband connection, this connected network and bandwidth allowed Napster and BitTorrent to flourish.  It was not the genius of Napster network protocol or ease of use.  It was fueled by many more people having personal computers with dedicated broadband connections.

It's also true with Facebook and Twitter.  Meteoric rise of smartphones and booming texting culture among teens created an environment where people are sharing more data on the go.  With Facebook real-time news feed and 140 character tweets, social network benefited enormously from rapid smartphones adoptions by many.

So then, the question can be turned into whether your product will benefit from big market trend.  Are you releasing a product that anticipates and benefits from the big market trend? Every product manager should think about overall market trend.  Because it's the market that creates the size of your winning, and you have very little control of its happening.  Just like Apple Newton did, if market is not happening all you are going to get is a big thud. 

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