The title of this e-book may be Burning Entrepreneur, but it’s really not about you. It’s about the product: the insanely great offering that brings you dollars and evangelists. Make sure that product is designed, priced and presented to delight your customers.

I love to invest in companies where I can be actively involved as a user of their products. One of the benefits of actively blogging over the past two years has been an opportunity to play / work with numerous entrepreneurs in my own “lab” (my blog) to understand how their technologies and products work, how the ecosystem around them evolves, and what seems compelling (vs. just interesting or clever.)

When I think back over the past dozen years that I’ve been doing this, my most successful investments were ones that I personally related to, could use their products, and could really dig into them. Now, I know I’m not the broad market user — and I never confuse myself with that person (especially with enterprise related products) — but I do play one on TV. Plus, it’s a really satisfying approach to this business.


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The title of this e-book may be Burning Entrepreneur, but it’s really not about you. It’s about the product: the insanely great offering that brings you dollars and evangelists. Make sure that product is designed, priced and presented to delight your customers.

I love to invest in companies where I can be actively involved as a user of their products. One of the benefits of actively blogging over the past two years has been an opportunity to play / work with numerous entrepreneurs in my own “lab” (my blog) to understand how their technologies and products work, how the ecosystem around them evolves, and what seems compelling (vs. just interesting or clever.)

When I think back over the past dozen years that I’ve been doing this, my most successful investments were ones that I personally related to, could use their products, and could really dig into them. Now, I know I’m not the broad market user — and I never confuse myself with that person (especially with enterprise related products) — but I do play one on TV. Plus, it’s a really satisfying approach to this business.

In many of the interviews I do, I get asked the inevitable, “What makes a great entrepreneur?” When I’m on a VC panel, I’m always amused by the answers from my co-panelists as they are usually the same set of “VC clichés,” which makes it even more fun when I blurt out my answer:

A complete and total obsession with the product.”

The great companies that I’ve been an investor in share a common trait – the founder/CEO is obsessed with the product. Not interested, not aware of, not familiar with, but obsessed. Every discussion trends back toward the product. All of the conversations about customer are really about how the customer uses the product and the value the product brings the customer. The majority of the early teams are focused entirely on the product, including the non-engineering people. Product, product, product.

And these CEO’s love to show their product to anyone that will listen. They don’t explain the company to people with Powerpoint slides. They don’t send out long executive summaries with mocked up screen shots. They don’t try to engage you in a phone conversation about the great market they are going after. They start with the product. And stay with the product.

I don’t create products anymore (I invest in companies that create them), but I’m a great alpha tester. I’ve always been good at this for some reason — bugs just find me. While my UX design skills are merely adequate, I’ve got a great feel for how to simplify things and make them cleaner. Plus I’m happy to just grind and grind and grind on the product, offering both detailed and high level feedback indefinitely.

How a founder/CEO reacts to this speaks volumes to me. I probably first noticed this when interacting with Dick Costolo at FeedBurner when I met him. I am FeedBurner publisher #699 and used it for my blog back when it was “pre-alpha”. I had an issue, sent support@feedburner.com a note, and instantly got a reply from Dick. I had no idea who Dick was, but he helped me and I quickly realized he was the CEO.

Over the next six months we interacted regularly about the product and when he was ready to start fundraising, I quickly made him an offer and we became the lead investor in the round. My obsession with the product didn’t stop there (as Eric Lunt and many of the other FeedBurner gang can tell you — I still occasionally email Steve-O bugs that I find.)

I can give a bunch of other examples like FeedBurner, but I wrap up by saying that I’m just as obsessed with product as the founders. And, as I realize what results in success in my world, I get even more obsessed. Plus, I really like to play with software.

Comment by vinniv
Solid post, but there's one aspect to being obsessed with the product that people should always continue to keep in mind: when you get super close to the product that you are building, you may end up seeing things outside of your customers perspective because you are so close. So I find that oftentimes it helps to unwind and remove yourself from the product (whether that's not using it for a day or some other method) to get a fresh perspective of what a first time user might see.
May 2010
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