I have this sneaking suspicion that a fair number of people are under the impression that User Experience is the hot new “silver-bullet”. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but I am afraid that just isn’t the case. While there can be no doubt that UX plays an important role in shaping, defining and creating a successful product, it is important to understand that there are often other factors at work that can cancel out even the best designs.
It is entirely possible to provide a great user experience while your business is running straight into the ground. Being aware of the following points will allow you and your business to put the appropriate time and focus on the right pain-points at the right time.
Product-market fit can be one of the most difficult pieces of this puzzle and, especially with startups, the source of much agony, turmoil and potentially a company’s undoing. This quote from Marc Andreessen illustrates how serious this one factor is to the health and vitality of a company and how disruptive it can be at the same time:
“Do whatever is required to get to product/market fit. Including changing out people, rewriting your product, moving into a different market, telling customers no when you don’t want to, telling customers yes when you don’t want to, raising that fourth round of highly dilutive venture capital — whatever is required.”
Of course, a great user experience is central to getting people to use a product. But if that product still fails to meet an actual need that the people have, no amount of UX will fix that.
Customer Acquisition is one of fundamental keys to growth for any new (or existing) company. There is a significant cost (both in time and resources) that goes into understanding who you are targeting. It could be customers that have never seen or heard of your product or customers who have bought/used a product/service from one of your competitors. However, if no one uses your product you are going to have a very hard time winning them with your amazing UX.
Customer feature requests are closely tied to Customer Acquisition. Every product should have a clear roadmap and a clear understanding of what the product does and does not do. If your team does not have this in place, you will find yourself in an endless cycle of catering to customer requests instead of building out the roadmap you had outlined. This reminds me of my favorite quote from Henry Ford, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”
Competitors are always a concern and a disruptive factor you have to be watching out for. In this day and age, time-to-market is getting shorter and shorter. Scrappy startups disrupt and un-seat the incumbents by moving quicker and operating on a significantly tighter release schedule. Everyone is watching everyone. An insignificant tweet can signal a major change in direction if you are watching for it. Down-playing your competitors is a dangerous thing. Be constantly mindful of what the other guy is doing and do it better, faster and with more impact.
Feature wars with your competitors are one of the surefire ways to derail real progress on your product and get yourself into a vicious cycle of trying match features to appease potential customers. Your time is better spent focusing on features that differentiate your product from the rest than the ones that are just a checkbox on a long list.
Scalability is another component that most people don’t think about until its too late but can lead to customer abandonment and potentially harmful press. This is a potential problem in both the real world (shipping, packaging, distribution) and online (servers, databases, etc). A wise company will invest in the Engineering talent that can address this problem before it becomes a problem—or at least know what to do when it does.
As I said at the beginning, UX (alone) wont save you. It will not fix or address the other challenges you will face bringing your product to market. But as you know, it is an integral part creating a successful product that engages and captures your customers. Any company that begins with a focus on the user’s experience will always have a completive advantage over the rest.