Cynical, but there's no better way to put it. Building a product is only the first step of a very long journey, a journey that doesn't always reward the best. In theory, we like to believe that if you matched up two products with identical functionality, the better of the two would win. Key words, "in theory."
I was reminded of this concept earlier today after a tweet from Dave McClure on the emphasis of product over marketing.
startups focus too much on building product, w/ limited attention to customer interaction, usability, & marketing. this is also a big #FAIL— Dave McClure (@davemcclure) July 1, 2013
He points to the Valley as the culprit, and indeed it's more prominent there, but they're not the only ones. As an industry, we greatly undervalue the act of growing a startup, and slightly overvalue the act of building a product. So much so, that in some cases, marketing is the afterthought of a startup. It's what I alluded to in my previous post on developers, businesspeople, and dead weight.
There's a gap, and it's widening.
Perhaps it's because the developer function is so scarce. Most people wrongly assume that great growth marketers aren't facing the same levels of scarcity. Just as hard as great developers are to come by, as are great marketers -- both are a rare breed, and in my opinion, equally as valuable.
Still think that the best product will win? Just look at my favorite example; Rdio and Spotify. If you compare the two, side by side, you'll notice two things: The functionality is identical and Rdio is leaps and bounds a better product. Yet, Spotify is winning because they're the better marketers.
Why is it, then, that marketing is so undervalued? You don't have to look far. There's plenty of products that won without great marketers (initially); Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin. These are an anomaly, not the rule. Just like Facebook, they're one in a
million billion. They hit the right market, at the right time, with just the right product, typically with a viral component built in to pick up the marketing slack. For the rest of us, we have to grow our startup the old fashioned way.
Overnight successes are myth, as are startups reaching scale with "no marketing."
Every startup I've been a part of has gone through the same trudge. Moz took 5 years to reach our current scale of $30M/year. Seesmic spiked, then staled, due to both product and a lack of marketing. Stride slows when we aren't pushing -- looking at the graph then referencing previous campaigns, it's clearly causal.
The reason I say all of this, is to make a simple case. When you do your first, next, or last startup, make sure it consists of three people; Developer, Designer, and Marketer. You can build a great product, but that's not enough.