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Startups & the product roadmap

In early stage startups, it’s not particularly helpful to obsess about long term financial projections – especially the revenue projections because we know it’s not always up and to the right.  

The same is often true with long term product roadmaps.

Often times in board meetings we talk about a startup’s product plan. For an early stage startup the product is practically everything so it’s little surprise that the product roadmap are the basis for the strategic direction of the company.

And depending on the scale of the product, the product plan also informs the capital requirements (# of people required, etc) and an important way to keep everyone in the company focused on the task at hand. 

But just like long term financial projections aren’t very helpful for an early stage consumer startup, long term product plans aren’t either. 

It’s not because I don’t care about the long term product plan. It’s just less important to me because in my experience things change quite a bit.

I used to tease Avner at Boxee quite a bit about this. 

I remember our first board mtg, Avner shared a product plan for the next twelve months. Then, before the very next board meeting he shipped a bunch of new things that weren’t on the roadmap. It’s not because his roadmap was bull*&t. Rather, he would see opportunities in the market, listen to his users and then create and launch. And that approach paid off and continues to pay off.  

To me that’s something I look for when I’m considering a seed or series A investment. I not taken with a 18month product plan etched in stone with pre-defined alpha and beta dates1 . I’m more interested in learning if the founders have the talent and desire to move, innovate and create quickly. 

Combine that with a compelling alpha product or prototype and I’m leaning way forward.

  1. this post is about consumer web and mobile startups. I realize that for infrastructure startups the roadmap and scope can be quite different.  ↩︎