Its a “marketing problem”, the product is actually good – the engineer’s myth

I have been clear in my preference for hacker / developer / engineer founded companies. I prefer developers since they can actually solve the problem using tools at their disposal without having to “hire” people they dont understand anything about.

The biggest challenge of backing hacker founders, though is that once every so often (more frequently than I’d like), I get an entrepreneur who falsely believes they have achieved “product market fit” and the problem they have is one of marketing.

This is especially true of consumer Internet companies and more so in mobile.

For some reason, hacker entrepreneurs believe the “problem” is solved when the product has been shipped to the App Store.

That’s usually when they start thinking about user acquisition.

There is a big difference between customer discovery, customer validation and customer acquisition.

Customer Discovery
Customer Discovery

When you are talking to customers to understand their needs, and tweak the product to their needs or discover the real problem they have versus the problem you think they have, the stage you are at is customer discovery, development and validation.

When your product has completed its customer validation there’s one thing that you should know:

“What makes customers have a WOW experience with your product”?

If you do not know why a customer likes your product or when it triggers them to tell others, you have not yet achieved product market fit.

I do get a lot of engineer founders who will come to me after launching their product in the App Store. They are unable to get good traction for their product and they are stuck at 100-500 downloads per day and a total of 3K – 10K downloads. They then diagnose the problem to be a “marketing” problem and give me these possible reasons as to why they got limited traction:

  1. They are not marketers and were unable to market the product.
  2. They tried to hire 2-3 (pick a number) marketing people but they all were unable to get traction for the product, even though the product is “great”.
  3. They have tried 5-7 different marketing tactics – SEO, Facebook ads, Social Media engagement, etc. and none of them is working.

It is usually at this point that I have the hard conversation with them about user / customer acquisition. Most times they are defensive and tell me they have been talking to customers “daily” and have been getting feedback and tweaking the product based on the customer’s needs.

They do however fail to understand that talking to customers during product development is “customer development” and not “customer acquisition”.

The easiest way to acquire customers is to have existing customers tell other customers.

So, then the only question you have answer is when and why will my existing customers tell other potential customers?

If you can answer that question, then the user acquisition is organic.

Else you have to use “marketing techniques” to acquire your initial users.

Marketing only adds fuel to an existing fire. It is not good at starting fires. Great product start fires. The fire spreads when a customer tells another person they trust about the product.

It is not a “marketing problem” you have. You have a customer acquisition problem, which you may classify as marketing, but really it is a product problem.

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One thought on “Its a “marketing problem”, the product is actually good – the engineer’s myth”

  1. This is very interesting, but at a time when there are a million people advertising a million products on what seems like a million platforms, getting noticed can be a real, real problem. Just ask the thousands of indie game developers who toil away on great games and never get noticed.

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