The Verge recently ran a great longform article on the birth and death of Everpix, a startup that created a product that its users loved, but which couldn’t grow beyond its cult status:
The always-insightful Andrew Chen penned a great analysis of what went wrong from a growth hacking standpoint:
“The problem with hyper product-oriented entrepreneurs is that they often
have one tool in their pocket: Making a great product. That’s both
admirable, and dangerous. Once the initial product is working, the team
has to quickly transition into marketing and user growth, which requires
a different set of skills. It has to be more about metrics rather than
product design: running experiments, optimizing signup flows,
arbitraging LTVs and CACs, etc. It’s best when this is built on the firm
foundation of user engagement that’s already been set up. In contrast,
an entrepreneur that’s too product oriented will just continue polishing
features or possibly introducing “big new ideas” that ultimately screw
the product up. Or keep doing the same thing unaware of the milestone
cliff in front of them. Scary.”
Andrew’s advice and analysis are sound. I’ve seen far too many startups chase feature development as the answer to business problems, rather than really understanding the business. That’s the beauty and the danger of features–they can change a company’s fortunes overnight, but they can also be a siren song that never delivers any results.
But the nuance I’d like to emphasize is that growth is, at its core, a product function. As an entrepreneur, you have to design your products for delight and growth. As I read The Verge article, there was a single passage that, for me, sealed Everpix’s fate:
“At one point, the team considered requiring a user’s friends to create
an account to download any photos that the user shared with them. It was
a surefire way to boost signups — but also felt like the sort of ugly,
needy design choice that the team prided itself on avoiding. The idea
I hate products that are engineered using “dark patterns” to encourage spamming. But I feel like the Everpix team settled on a false dichotomy. People love sharing photos (see: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.). There ought to have been a way to engineer a viral dynamic. But by rejecting the whole concept of engineering growth, rather than just the specific feature of requiring account creation, Everpix turned its back on the one thing that could have driven the growth they so desperately craved.
This of course is Monday morning quarterbacking; issues are seldom so stark. But it’s important to draw the right lessons from any cautionary tale.