What is a product?

definition product Feb 15, 2021

You have to know what it is you are building, in order to actually go ahead and solve a users problem. A product is exactly that - whatever thing that manifests itself into an item or service that you are providing to meet the want or need of a user. You need to build what people want and you need to deeply empathize with the pain that your users are going through. Practically speaking, you also need to be able to find a market large enough to accommodate a real business but we will about that later in product market fit (PMF).

As an anecdote, this is typically why - most founders of high growth startups - start with something that they themselves care about. It’s important to separate things you care about, from those that you are passionate about as Ben Horowitz points outs in this speech. Regardless, in technology, products are, in my opinion, typically divided into 4 separate and distinct buckets - consumer, enterprise, developer and hardware.

We go into this in a lot more detail in the Product Management Foundations course, but each of these technology segments encompass incredibly different sets of products and as a result, the product managers role is also incredibly different in each too. The reason these 4 buckets make sense is mostly because of how technology stacks actually work - these cover the primary areas of s

Consumer

Consumer products will always ultimately have a target end-state user as a consumer. Its irrelevant whether they are a marketplace (i.e. Airbnb who targets homeowners (suppliers) or consumers (looking to book) or OpenTable who targets restaurants (suppliers) or consumers (booking a seat)) or Warby Parker (i.e. direct-to-consumer glasses). The point is that there is a consumer in their core target user cohort. The challenge with consumer startups is that the acquisition costs over time get really hard, simply because understanding consumer behavior is really tough. You have to have a really high retention and engagement rates for the end-user to achieve that product stickiness. That is, the utility you are offering has to be really strong.

Enterprise

Enterprise products are where the primary target user is an enterprise rather than a consumer. Outside of the largest technology companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft who all offer a range of enterprise products - more practical examples work be WorkDay, VMWare, Salesforce, ServiceNow and ZenDesk. Enterprise products are targeting improving internal operations of organizations and reducing overall inefficiencies and focused on augmenting internal processes to improve end-state human utilization and overall efficiency. Whether this be managing processes like employee onboarding, improving sales processes or interfacing with customers and improving the relationship cycle with end users.

Developer

Developer focused products are where the primary target user is the developer market. Practical examples of these types of products would be any cloud service offering like Google Cloud, AWS, Microsoft Azure but also includes companies like Github, DataDog, PagerDuty, New Relic, CloudFlare and Fastly among many others. Developer velocity is one of the most critical metrics to be tracking in your overall ship cycle (the full Product Cycle is discussed in our Product Management Foundations course) and developer focused products are essentially about improving that, in addition to providing tooling for building, integrating, testing, releasing, deploying and managing engineering processes.

Hardware

Hardware focused products are where the primary target user can be any of the above cohorts as hardware is the foundation atom layer on which any technology product runs. For consumers, you can have direct hardware companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, Facebook, Amazon where you are selling software and hardware together like in the iPhone, Galaxy Phones, Assistant, Portal and Alexa. You can also have enterprise hardware like Nvidia, Intel and AMD which are selling CPUs and GPUs to enterprises (but also consumers in the form of home computers). You also have hardware companies focused purely at developers through their workstations (i.e. Nvidia targeting Machine Learning engineers) or Raspberry Pi targeting developers and the education market. Clearly, this segment has the most overlap to the others and product managers working in Hardware usually work closely with other segments depending on who the final primary user is.

Shipping Products

Obviously, as part of the Product Cycle, shipping products across all these segments involves unique skill sets and overall management. Growing products in each of these categories and building successful businesses also has radically different components of product, engineering, design, marketing, sales, legal, support services, business development and overall technology components. We cover this in much more detail in our courses and in future posts.

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