A boat or a rocket ship?

Working in tech, I hear the word “rocket ship” and see the emoji 🚀 a lot. We seem to use the metaphor of a rocket blasting off as shorthand for the kind of exponential growth that changes the world. We share graphs that show how the record for being the fastest company to hit $100M in revenue keeps getting broken (I just saw another one this week!)

A space shuttle mission with a short launch window, a million parts, and one shot at success.

I get it. I get the desire to scale quickly, to change the world, to really solve something in such a compelling way that signup for our product or service is a no-brainer. Sounds great. And sometimes a startup really is a tech fairytale and everything works perfectly from day one.

But even when everything seems to be unicorns and rainbows, planning for a different kind of future makes sense. Put another way: if all we talk about and plan for is rocket ship growth, most of us don’t actually do the work to put ourselves in the position to experience that amazing moment when everything clicks and everyone in the world seems to want our product all at once.

I prefer to think about boats. Not just because I love sailing, but because I think boats are a more durable metaphor for the kinds of solutions that actually make a difference in customers’ lives over time. Amazon didn’t start with selling furniture, with drone delivery, with Prime and its own fleet of planes (and AWS). It started by selling books. That was it. You wanted a book, that’s what they sold.

A boat that solves the specific problem of chilling and scuba diving very well!

Amazon built a boat. It sold books. It did a pretty good job of that (it floated!) It served a specific customer need (where else could you shop for 1 million titles in 1996?) They then began to relentlessly make it better, serving customers in new ways. And in ~25 years they became a trillion dollar company. Amazon didn’t build that trillion dollars in value at once. They didn’t put in two decades of work followed by a four hour launch window and one shot at getting to Mars.

Summing up: rockets might be the right picture of growth, but a rocket is an unhelpful metaphor for what you need to do on the inside of a startup to deliver value for customers.

That’s why my preferred metaphor with Palolo is building a boat. We don’t need our first release to be a rocket. We don’t have a four hour launch window. We just need it to float soon. To solve a specific problem for customers. Then we can make it better relentlessly.

That’s it. Sure, we have an idea of how we’d like to improve our product/boat in the future. But we’re going to start with something specific that is supposed to solve a real problem in our customers’ lives, and evolve from there as we listen to what our customers have to say. Because that’s what matters.

Interested in the specific problem we’re solving with our first launch? That’s for next time!

Stay tuned,

Nate

Product @ Palolo

(You can find more of Nate’s product musings are on TikTok and Twitter)

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