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A Fortune 100 sized product trap.

Posted by C.S. Hsia on · Comments

Recently the book “Traction” made it into my reading list following a recommendation from many friends in the start-up community, and Pay4Bugs co-founder Larry. In one of the early chapters, Gabriel Weinberg talks about the “Product Trap”, where developers pick up a “if you build it, they will come” mentality, and focus too much on the product, rather than finding traction with distribution channels.

We unfortunately fell into that trap early with Pay4Bugs, before we managed to dig ourselves out. Here’s the story:

In the early days of Pay4Bugs, it was a closed platform for our friends and family to help debug our other software products, for a financial reward. Our friends liked it so much they told us it should be made public, so we added some orange and bought a domain.

A couple weeks later, our system admin was browsing through the client table (filled with many fictitious testing accounts created by yours truly), when he yelled out “who created the new fake testing account today?”

“Nobody” was the reply. Sure enough, right under the fictitious Apple and Google accounts, a client-created account from a Fortune 100 enterprise. “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t get any more exciting than this, Cisco was our first paying customer.

Immediately, our focus shifted completely from a development/marketing split to an obsessive focus on product. Cisco found us, others surely would too. That approach turned out to be a mistake, as we kept improving an already solid product, but didn’t spend enough effort making sure people knew about it.

Eventually we came back around, but this detour definitely had opportunity costs. Our takeaway for entrepreneurs - in between writing code and reading Stack Overflow, read a book.