What it takes to build a successful product — Part I

We get asked quite frequently what it takes to find success when you’re building something — a new company, a new product, a new arm of your business. And our answer may surprise you.

Because it has very little to do with the product you build.

That may not be what you’d expect to hear from a product design and development firm, and that’s not to say product doesn’t matter in the long-term viability of your endeavor.

But here’s the thing about product: If you build a strong foundation — a good team with good leadership (and a good market) — you will find a product that works.

Trust us. We’ve been there. Combined, our team has more than 35 years of experience building and managing successful products and companies. We’ve seen what works — and what doesn’t — and we’ve honed in on the qualities you need as both an individual and a team to find your success story.

Below we breakdown key individual leadership qualities to build a successful product. (We’ll dig into what your team needs in our next installment.)

So, here goes…

Self-awareness

I could write an entire thesis on self-awareness; it’s that critical. Here’s why.

Self-awareness in business is all about figuring out your personality traits so you can determine what innate qualities you bring to the table — and what professional gaps you need to fill.

So, if you are a big-picture thinker, maybe your team needs a detail-oriented project manager type to execute on all those lofty goals. If you’re an introvert looking to focus on heads-down work, you might need an extrovert to focus on sales and networking.

I’ll give you an example: Early on in my career as a product engineer, I built a successful prototype. I reached out to a contact for advice on how to build the prototype into a business, and this person told me to stop working on the product and spend two months going to as many sales meetings as possible.

By the end of those two months, I’d had six meetings. I should have had 60. That’s when I realized I needed someone else on my team to handle that side of the business, so I could focus on what I do best. Only then did the company start to find success.

Now, this conversation is different than asking yourself what you like to do and what you don’t, but the two go hand in hand. More often than not, the things you like to do are the things you’re naturally suited for. So, once you figure out the personality types you need to complement your own, document what you like to do and what you don’t. Then, delegate to those whose strengths are your weaknesses.

Perseverance

This one seems fairly straightforward, but it comes with a caveat.

When you’re building something, you will inevitably encounter pushback, dead ends, frustration. And you have to push through it. You have to keep going.

But not necessarily in the same direction.

You need to persevere on your long-term goal — not each individual implementation. What do I mean by that? Tunnel vision can pose a significant threat to any business, and it occurs when you get so laser-focused on one possible solution that you fail to realize the need to iterate or pivot. We think we’re on to the next big thing, and we struggle to accept it when the market tells us we’re not.

So, yes, you need to persevere on any journey in innovation, but when you fail (which you will), do it fast — and use that failure to keep moving forward.

Decisiveness

When you’re building something, you have to make a lot of decisions. And I’m always surprised by how many entrepreneurs and team leaders struggle in the face of that.

At times, the urge to make an “informed” decision can sideline the process. You collect too much data, suffer information overload and stall out. At others, fear thwarts the decision-making process. What if you make a bad choice, and your business stumbles as a result?

Regardless of the root cause, I’ve seen what indecision can do to a company, and the impact can be catastrophic.

So, in the process of building your business, your product, your whatever, understand this: No decision is worse than a bad decision. You can recover from failure. But you can’t recover from inaction.

And who knows? You might just surprise yourself and make the right call.

With these elements in place, you will have a strong foundation for whatever you seek to build. Next step: build a team that can bring it to life. More on that next time.

Ben Gilman is a principal at Dualboot Partners and the founder of several successful startups, including Learn Platform, a Techstars alumni. This post originally appeared on the Dualboot Partners website

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