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A Product’s Journey, 5 Warning Signs and Rescue Tips

Read part one of A Product’s Journey, Finding your Niche and Getting Started.

In my previous post, I wrote about how I found a niche and successfully created a product. A product that kept me busy for the better part of a decade.

But sometimes, life decides for other things to happen. When you are dealing with product growth you also have to factor in the finer nuances of your long term approach. Finding balance with the immediate requirements to achieve momentum supports your product management abilities.

With WP Auctions running on auto-pilot I thought things would hum along. If you are at a point in your life where you are thinking this, let me tell you something – You. Need. To. Double. Down.

Here are the top 5 warning signs to monitor for your business or product, and some tips on getting through these hurdles.

Warning Sign #1

The first, and most important one, that I would advise any founder or business is concerning customer support. If you find support requests dropping, it is an early indication of sales decreasing very soon. The more people have questions, find faults, or ask for features, the better you will perform with revenue.

Trust me, I didn’t register this before it was too late. Big mistake.

Around 2015, our growth chart slowly started showing a dip. I took it as a seasonal blip, seeing as how there were some more competitors. It was also around this time I noticed fewer pre-sales questions and website traffic in general.

Address this early on, by constantly engaging with your customers. Even when they seem to be happy. Write about use cases, and share how features can help them use your product better. Address pain points, and how your product solves them.

Stay engaged. The biggest problem why startups struggle is because they don’t reach their user base. Use social media, blogs, newsletters, email blasts, guest posts, reviews, videos and everything else in between to connect.

Warning Sign #2

One reason for sign #1 was that we didn’t ship as often. Having experienced 4 years of 100%+ YOY growth, I thought it would just…continue?!

So we thought we should diversify, and start some new projects. Causing feature updates for WP Auctions to be less frequent.

For clarity, this was in our 4th or 5th year of operations. Before that, we were always shipping.

Building new products turned out to be a time sink though, with minimal return on investment (ROI) for the long run. It was fun to work on something else while WP Auctions was in auto mode. We should not have stopped feeding our golden goose.

Keep shipping, don’t deviate.

We did do one thing which helped our product roadmap take off quickly. A few clients wanted some modifications to our plugin. We made a deal where we charged them a nominal fee, but get to keep code rights and integrate the features into our core offering. They saw the benefit in not paying us for extended support for their modifications for the foreseeable future.

The above tactic won’t fit into most startups business growth plan, and that’s completely fine. It’s just something that helped us grow the plugin in features, and provide funds for future development.

To add an important takeaway, hire an extra helping hand when you are growing. I talk about this in Sign #5 below.

Warning Sign #3

If your competition replicates your playbook and they ship more often, guess what? Your customers will notice and switch over.

Our ‘freemium’ model worked well, almost too well. No other competitor in our space used a similar strategy. It was only time before someone would put two and two together and gain traction with the same concept.

As a consolation, I’ll accept it as flattery.

If you see someone replicating your strategy you need to reinvent. Take some time, think up new ways to stay relevant – rinse and repeat, till something sticks. It’s basically time to go back to the ‘drawing board’ and revive your product.

Warning Sign #4

Adapt to the market. Do it, and do it fast. As the extensibility of WordPress reached new levels we didn’t innovate fast enough to latch on to new waves.

Integrating with WooCommerce, developing partnerships, and creating add-ons for payment providers were a few things that were requested, but we never got around to doing it.

As the ecosystem evolved, we didn’t. Adapt and integrate, like yesterday.

Thinking about it now, this is exactly how we should have reinvented ourselves. (from point #3 above)

Warning Sign #5

For all of the above, sometimes you need more than two heads. Add a developer, or marketing person as soon as you get some traction. Free up your time, so that you can focus on what you do best. In my case, that would have been developing the product roadmap.

We had started working on some features that would have put all our competitors behind us. But, time constraints and….life just made alignment hard. That’s when you need that third or fourth head to keep the engine oiled up.

Get help when you can afford it. For us, that would have been in our 4th year of operations. Manage your expenses while revenue catches up, it will be worth it. It just gets exponentially harder to do this when revenue starts to stagnate.

The bottom line, you need a team if you want to achieve more.

“Act”ion Matters

Remember, the single most important thing you can be doing to keep traction on your side is to “act.”

  • Interact
  • Transact
  • React
  • Enact
  • Impact

Building a business comes with responsibilities, not just to yourself, your customers, and those who work with you. But also to the product itself. Once a client begins working with your product, they see it as an extension of you.

Develop your product well enough, and let it speak for you.

I hope the above helps you look at your setup and allow you to catch any of these warning signs. Experiencing and acknowledging them did help me in other projects, hope it does the same for you.

WP Auctions is now under new and able management since 2022, and I still consider it one of the better auction plugins available for WordPress.

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