A year of products
I was talking with a fellow OnDecker Parthi Loganathan the other day. Parthi shared he had launched not one, not two, but 13 (!) different products last year!
I started salivating over how much data he must’ve accumulated about those industries, product building, and himself. So I shamelessly asked Parthi if he could share what products he built and the lessons that he’d learned from those experiences and allow me to analyze all of that…
Luckily, he agreed!
His year of products:
1: E-commerce returns as a service
2: A credit card that helps you save.
3: RPE calculator for power-lifters. Built for himself first, still live
4: Modern Expert Network
5: Gamified waitlists. Still live and generating revenue
Covid hit 😷 😷 😷
6: Embedded video chat for support/sales.
7: SMS to Slack. Acquired by another company
8: Zendesk for Slack.
9: Low-code god mode for troubleshooting user issues.
10: Watercolor conversations in Slack (and soon Teams). Still live and generating revenue.
11: Clubhouse but on Zoom
12: Regex generator using GPT-3
13: Content marketing platform for creators & SMBs. Live and generating revenue
Teams are hard
The co-founding team and early advisors have a lot of influence on the product, and it’s not always a good thing.
Parthi built Product 1 and Product 2 with co-founding teams. However, after launching Product 1, some of his team’s interest in the ecommerce space fizzled. Without the full team buy-in, they couldn’t move forward. Product 2 relied heavily on the credit card domain expertise of one founder. When that founder left because of personal reasons, Product 2 ground to a halt.
Parthi launched Product 6 and 7 before joining YC. Both products were doing ok, but the YC team had higher expectations for their batch and Parthi pivoted away from both the products. Looking back now, he wonders if that was the right path forward.
With dating, I’ve often heard people say that happily married > single > unhappily married. Likewise, with founding teams, happily co-founding > single founder > unhappily co-founding.
If your team has a sound foundation of trust and commitment, then working with each other will accelerate your progress. But, if you don’t have the same level of motivation, are at different stages in your life, or have incompatible views / interests, then working with each other anyway can slow your progress instead.
Each new cofounder is a risk factor. Don’t feel obligated to have a cofounder just because.
Domain expertise compounds
In the beginning, Parthi built products in many domains - ecommerce, personal finance, fitness, etc. But in the middle of his year of products (at Product 5), he honed in on the domain that he had the most knowledge in: internal processes at early stage-startups. Products 5-10 were all products for startups to use instead of building their own. Three of the five products that he built in this phase are “successful” (aka generating revenue or acquired).
By sticking with a single domain and target customer base, he made it easier to generate novel insights to sell to an already receptive customer base. Now, his product 13 is also for startups, but in an even more niche domain - content marketing - as he leverages the same concept to stay relevant.
Furthermore, products 7, 8, and 10 were all built on a single platform - Slack, which meant that he could cross-leverage building techniques to make it easier and faster to build additional products for Slack.
“The only way a company can fail is if the founder gives up.” - Parthi
Cofounders quit on you? Continue by yourself or build a new team.
Too early in the market? Use your newly gained insights to solve a more immediate problem that this customer market faces.
Run out of money? Build something that doesn’t require that much money, work somewhere part-time & build on the side, or raise more money.
Lose interest in the space? Find another space that interests you more.
Terrible work-life balance? Automate things or grow your team so you can create more time for yourself.
By December 2008, in peak recession following the subprime mortgage meltdown, both Tesla and SpaceX were burning through cash with little to show for it. Tesla had taken 1200 car reservations years ago and delivered less than 50 cars. SpaceX had three public rocket launch failures and one barely successful fourth launch.
If Elon Musk had given up then, those companies would be failures. Today, they are both considered successes.
Don’t give up, pivot your strategy.