Why do Startups Fail?

by Saeed Khan

success-failThere’s no shortage of reasons why startups fail.  You can find lots of articles on the web with lists of reasons. But I hadn’t seen anything analytic until now.

I saw the following graphic mentioned in a Tweet recently.

It is from a company called CB Insights and is based 101 startup postmortems.

Now the data set is small, and may not be statistically valid everywhere — e.g. are startups in India failing for the same reasons as startups in the US? — but it’s a good data set none the less. Note that the sum of the percentages is greater than 100%, so I can only assume that companies had multiple issues

The most common reason for failure, by far(!), is “No Market Need”.  And if you look further down, you see “Ignore Customers” and “Product Mis-Timed”, which in my opinion, are almost the same as “No Market Need”.

Top 20 reasons startups fail

While not completely surprised by these findings, the fact that the number one reason is so far ahead of ALL other reasons DOES surprise me. It indicates one of two things. Either that there is still a LOT of work to do to teach startups how to identify markets, or people will pursue business ideas rather blindly regardless of what the market opportunity really is.

Here are a couple of the examples cited in the article, but I encourage you to read or view some of the postmortems. They are very interesting case studies.

Product: Patient Communicator

I realized that many of the true money-making businesses in healthcare really aren’t about optimizing delivery of primary care. This is a longer discussion but I realized, essentially, that we had no customers because no one was really interested in the model we were pitching.  Doctors want more patients, not an efficient office.

See full postmortem here.

Product: VoterTide

We didn’t spend enough time talking with customers and were rolling out features that I thought were great, but we didn’t gather enough input from clients. We didn’t realize it until it was too late. It’s easy to get tricked into thinking your thing is cool. You have to pay attention to your customers and adapt to their needs.

See full postmortem here.


Tweet this: Why do startups fail? http://wp.me/pXBON-4ma #prodmgmt #startups

About the Author

saeed-headshot-colourSaeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.



3 Elements to Creating Killer Product Pages

By: Maggie Hibma

content creationEven when you’re not in a launch cycle, content creation is an everyday part of the gig as a product marketer. A lot of the content we create is for a specific audience, like a product walkthrough on your customer blog, or a demo script on a new feature for your sales force. In fact, all of your content has an impact on one important stakeholder or another in your business.

So what happens when you have to create a piece of content for everyone?

Product pages (or any feature- or product-specific page on your website) are one type of content product marketers are responsible for, and boy, they are one of the most handy-to-have but hard-to-make assets on our to-do lists. There’s a lot to consider when building product pages, and even more to consider to make them killer. Here are three important elements to product pages and how to nail them.

1. Storytelling

There’s been a lot of buzz as of late on the importance of storytelling in content marketing. But the reason the buzz hasn’t stopped is because it’s become one of the most important tools product marketers have to capture an audience’s attention in seconds (because you only have that long, anyway). When it comes to product pages, the story you tell shines through in two ways:


If you’ve ever written copy for a product page before, you’ll understand this sentiment: #FACEPALM. My head and hands tend to connect a lot when writing this kind of copy because writing for the web is not like writing a blog post, or an ebook, or a white paper.

You have to be succinct, understandable and clear — and those three words are not synonymous. Plus, add in a dash of character limits and the no-orphans rule and you’ve got this much space to get your point across.


While your visuals have to pair nicely with your copy, you also have to consider the medium in which these visuals are delivered. Are you only doing product shots, or are you adding in some imagery that show people using your new product or service?

Have you considered how a .gif or a video might change the way folks interpret your story? How are you weaving testimonials or user reviews into your page, if at all? (Advice: Include when possible. Social proof is the new 100% satisfaction guarantee.)

Considering the “visuals” on your page isn’t limited to images — it’s about how the page tells a story through the visuals you choose.

How to nail storytelling

once_upon_a_timeUse your copy and visual elements to tell a story that flows down your page. The most important part about storytelling on product pages is being relevant to the reader – and when you don’t exactly know who the reader will be, you have to toe the line between the specific features you offer and the general benefits your product brings to the table. I think Tile does a great job of this delicate balancing act.

The copy is catchy, you understand what it does right away and the five scenarios they show you through visuals are so widely applicable that anyone can relate, not only to the visual itself (being at the beach, for example)  but to the feature-specific benefits Tile offers (being at the beach and losing something in the sand).

And one, “not so good” example

On the flip side, as much as I hate to say it, I don’t think Pebble does a good job at this.  I know Pebble well, having followed the story from it’s Kickstarter days, but my problem here is that all of it’s benefits are listed (truly, listed) in modules absolutely below the fold and even further down than expected.

If I didn’t know what a Pebble watch was, I certainly don’t know I would care based on my more-than-generous first glance. Why do I need a Pebble watch? What does it mean for me?  It’s only when I get to the battery life comment that it piques my interest, but even then – what’s so special about the watch?


Tweet this3 Elements to Creating Killer Product Pages  http://wp.me/pXBON-4lS  #prodmgmt #prodmktg #content

Is Your Website the Window to Your Product Management Soul?

by John Mansour

eyes-soulYou’re familiar with the old saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” I’ve put a new spin on it to say, “Your website is the window to your product management soul.”

That’s right: The way your website presents products and services is a leading indicator of your organization’s approach to product management.

One of the things I enjoy most about training and consulting is the people I meet, all of whom face a myriad of different situations. That’s what makes my job so much fun and so incredibly rewarding.

But one of the most interesting byproducts of my profession is that I also notice some fascinating trends, one in particular that’s universal and not unique to an industry, a country or a type of product or service.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a strong correlation between the manner in which products are positioned on the company’s website and the structure of their product management function.

I bring this up to get you thinking about the correlation between the structure of your product management/product marketing function and the way in which your company communicates value messages to the market. To what extent should the two mirror one another in a B2B organization?

For instance, many companies dedicate real estate on their website to position their technology, even when it’s invisible and irrelevant to the end customer.  That’s usually a sign that there is a product manager for the technology platform – a good thing in all cases. But positioning your technology should be done only when it enhances your value proposition (from the buyer’s point of view).

Know your customer

In B2B, the most basic premise of a strong product management discipline is understanding who your target customers are, what they do, why they do it, how they do it, what they’re ultimately trying to accomplish (at all levels of the organization), and where their biggest obstacles exist.

If you subscribe to that philosophy, then it would seem beneficial to structure some aspects of product management (in addition to those who own the products) to mirror the business of your target customers — whether by vertical industry, horizontal business functions or some combination of both.

Think about it. If some portion of your product management/product marketing function were structured by industry and/or business function, how much sharper would your positioning be?

You’d lead with industry issues in healthcare, banking, transportation, etc.

  • You’d articulate the resulting operational challenges in finance, HR, IT, etc.
  • Finally, you’d position your products and services in a manner that clearly articulates their value relative to those operational and/or industry issues.

Consider the following:

  • If you offer fleet management solutions, you have value to any company that has a fleet of vehicles. However, in a transportation company, the fleet is “the business” whereas in a public university, the fleet of service vehicles is more of a support function, albeit an important one.

If product management is gathering business requirements for each segment, by default, the positioning on your website would reflect how your solutions meet the unique needs of managing a fleet in a transportation company versus those in a public university.

Position for value

The moral of the story is this:

If your product management team gathers market and customer requirements on a product-by-product basis only, your value messages come out the marketing side of the organization the exact same way: as product value propositions only.

Don’t get me wrong — every product needs value propositions. But the missed opportunity is the lack of positioning for higher-value business solutions comprised of multiple products in your portfolio. If you’re not managing products in a way that’s conducive to identifying needs in that manner and building those higher-value solutions accordingly, there’s a good chance you’re not positioning them either.

I’ve heard the comment many times from marketing VPs and CEOs that, “The way we’re organized should be invisible to the market.”

The implication is that your organization is structured to best run the company, which may not be the best way to market your products and services.

I see it a bit differently. The best way to run a company is to determine key functions where it’s most advantageous to mirror the business of your target customers, and structure those functions accordingly. Is there any reason product management and product marketing wouldn’t be at the top of that list?

Read the related article – Clear Business Requirements IN, Powerful Value Propositions OUT.

Tweet this: Is Your Website the Window to Your Product Management Soul? #prodmgmt  #productmanagement #messaging

About the Author

mansour-colour-small2John Mansour is a 20-year veteran in high technology product management, marketing and sales, and the Founder of Proficientz, Inc., a training and consulting firm that specializes in B2B product management & marketing.

Choose Your Words Wisely:  9 Tips that Will Improve Your UI Text

By Heather Searl

Use Your Words Wisely in Software UII just Googled half a dozen phrases related to the text used in software UI hoping to find a couple interesting ideas to add to this post. I found very little.

While that doesn’t help me write an in-depth article quickly, it does prove the point I want to make, which is that we don’t pay much attention to the language we use in our user interfaces.

A Meeting About The UI Text? Not Usually.

I once participated in long discussions about why Blanched Turquoise is the perfect shade of blue for the UI because it contains the meditative qualities of the Atlantic ocean at sunrise (I’m exaggerating but not much). Another time I was in an even longer meeting debating whether we should use widget A or widget B and whether the OK or Cancel button should come first. But I’ve have never sat in a meeting where the language used on screen was given more than an occasional tweak; which I think is rather strange.

Look at these dialogs:

Original UI
Original Dialog Box
No Color
No Color
Text Boxes Instead of Combo Boxes
Text Boxes Instead of Combo Boxes
Dialog box with no Text Labels
No Text Labels


Most of the changes don’t make much difference.

  • The first screen is a screen grab from Microsoft Word.
  • Take out the colour in the second screen… it’s still usable. (OK, this isn’t the greatest example to prove my point about colour, but you get my point.)
  • Change the drop down boxes to text fields in the third screen… it’s still pretty usable.
  • Take out the words in the fourth screen… not so usable.

So what should you be doing when writing the text for your application’s UI?  Here are 9 rules to follow:

1. Use a “Word” Person

shakespeareI want to tell you here to use a writer. But I know that isn’t always possible. But you can use someone who thinks that language is important and who takes pleasure in clear concise writing.

You also need to make sure that person has the time required.. There may not be many words on the screen but getting them right takes a lot of time. (If you doubt me, ask me how much extra time it to to review and rewrite the UI text for a company whose user experience person was not a native English speaker. Lesson learned.)

It should go without saying but, make sure this person understands your domain, the end-user’s domain-specific vocabulary knowledge and common software terminology.

Tweet this: Choose Your Words Wisely:  9 Tips that Will Improve Your UI Text http://wp.me/pXBON-4l0 #ux #prodmgmt


How to Leverage Product Usage Data to Improve Your Marketing Campaigns

by Rachel Sprung

Data. It’s everywhere. It’s how we make our decisions. It’s how we see whether or not we are successful. And it’s how we predict whether or not our future campaigns will be successful.

The interesting part about product marketing campaigns is we aren’t just working with data about how our leads and customers are engaging with our website and its content. We aren’t just working with data about what channel someone used to find out website. We are also working with data that shows us how our customers are actually using our products. With this information we can better market to them by answering these two questions.

  • What features should my customers be using that they are not already using?
  • What new features that are on my roadmap would be most valuable to my current customers?

Here is how you can get started incorporating usage data results into your next product marketing campaign.

1. Initial Research into Your Usage Data

research-ice-cubeBefore you get started pulling your usage data, you need to take a step back and think about the data you have at your disposal. What do you actually want to find out by looking at your usage data? What information could help you tailor your next campaign?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when doing some initial research to find out what data you have to start working with:

  1. How many customers are using the different parts of my product?
  2. Are there certain points in the product where a customer stops using the product?
  3. What product tier are they on / how much are they paying me for the product? (Note: You may need to cross-reference your product database with another database for this one.)
  4. How long has the customer been with my company?
  5. Did a customer test out my product in the trial process?

Asking yourself these questions and more will help you get started thinking of all the characteristics that will make someone a good fit for a product you want to promote.